Trump Administration Weighs Economic Escalation Against China

Chinese law requires the records of companies based in China to be kept there, and restricts the kind of documentation that auditors can transfer out of the country. The rules mean that hundreds of Chinese firms, with a collective market capitalization of more than $1 trillion, have received looser oversight than companies in other jurisdictions, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would force Chinese companies to comply with S.E.C. disclosure regulations or be delisted from American exchanges in three years. White House officials have debated throwing their support behind the bill, but several officials, including Mr. Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have opposed delisting as a draconian option that could throw American stock markets into turmoil.

“Delisting is not on the table,” Mr. Kudlow told reporters on Monday. He said the administration was responding to complaints to the commission about a lack of transparency and compliance, “but we’re very early in our deliberations.”

Elizabeth Economy, the director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that addressing the lack of compliance among Chinese companies was “overdue” but that a solution would ideally be negotiated between Chinese companies and the S.E.C.

“Nobody benefits from a mass delisting of Chinese companies on U.S. stock exchanges,” Ms. Economy said.

Henrietta Treyz, the director of economic policy at Veda Partners, outlined the extensive array of economic weapons at Mr. Trump’s disposal for investors this year. She said she would not be surprised if the S.E.C. stepped up scrutiny of Chinese firms or if the United States imposed penalties on China’s electronic payments systems, such as Alipay, on national security grounds.

Such moves could be far more severe than the tariffs on $550 billion of Chinese imports that the United States will have imposed by the end of the year, leading to a decoupling not just of the American and Chinese economies but of the financial sector as well.

“Tariffs are just a tax, a cost of doing business, but those costs can be digested by passing costs on to consumers or squeezing margins or diversifying your end consumer,” Ms. Treyz said. “If you’re no longer allowed to ship or buy products from Huawei or other entity list companies, you’ve shut out an entire pipeline of access, not to mention lost 1.3 billion potential customers in China.”