The outlook for global trade looks increasingly disturbing after the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 economies exchanged two rounds of tit-for-tat punitive and retaliatory tariffs.

The United States and China can ill-afford a third round of dueling in this mutually damaging tariffs battle. They need to continue talking to find common ground.

The United States and China have each imposed 25-percent tariffs on a wide range on their respective imports, worth an annual total of $16 billion (1.7 trillion yen) to each country.

Those actions followed moves by the two sides July 6 to slap tariffs on $34 billion worth of each other’s goods.

The Trump administration is working on a far larger tranche of tariffs: $200 billion worth of imports from China in a third round of punitive trade action that could come as early as September.

If the plan is put in effect, nearly half of China’s overall exports to the United States, worth some $505 billion annually, will be subject to the higher duties.

China is poised to retaliate again, preparing to raise the rate of U.S. products subject to the new tariffs to about 70 percent on around $150 billion worth of annual imports. Beijing has also hinted at “other retaliatory measures.”

The next round in the escalating trade dispute would create an even more dire situation.

The Trump administration has cited China’s intellectual property theft for its punitive actions. But Washington’s goals go beyond that issue.

In the two rounds of tariff attacks against China, the Trump administration targeted electronic parts and other products that are supported by Beijing’s policy of promoting domestic industries. That suggests the United States is trying to curb China’s rise as a high-tech power.

President Donald Trump is also irked at the massive trade deficit the United States is running with China.

While the two sides were trading tariff blows, senior trade officials of both countries held two days of talks in Washington.

In a statement, the White House said the officials “exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance and reciprocity in the economic relationship.” The officials also discussed “structural issues,” an apparent reference to intellectual property rights violations by China.

The first official discussion on trade between the two countries since ministerial-level talks in early June is a welcome development.

Both sides have a compelling interest in continuing efforts to meet halfway by keeping the door open to talks for a deal to mend their strained trade ties.

The way the Trump administration has ignored international rules in taking big-stick trade actions is, of course, unacceptable.

In late July, the United States and the European Union agreed to hold talks to lower tariffs on industrial products other than automobiles. The two sides decided to restrain themselves from imposing additional tariffs on cars during the negotiations.

Washington should strike a similar truce with Beijing.

There are also many problems with China’s trade policy that need to be addressed.

China has to take steps to make its trade policy worthy of its status as the world’s second largest economic power, such as cuts in its still high tariffs, more rigorous protection of intellectual property and a review of the government’s policy support to businesses, including state subsidies.

The two sides should have levelheaded talks to calm the situation by figuring out what they can do now to ease the tensions and identifying important medium- and long-term trade issues they should tackle together.

A continued tit-for-tat trade battle between the two superpowers would do nothing but deliver a heavy blow, not just to themselves but also to the global economy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25