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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

When President Trump began threatening China with tariffs, the Chinese initially played the role of obsequious couriers in an effort to avoid a head-on conflict. But since raising tariffs to 25% on their goods, China has reversed course and is making clear its intent to take the conflict with the U.S. to the proverbial mattresses.

The state of play: In a commentary published last week on its WeChat account, China's state-owned People's Daily warned the U.S. to "not even think about" concessions.

  • "China does not want a trade war but is not afraid of it," Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a press briefing on Monday. "We will not succumb to any external pressure and have the determination and ability to safeguard our legitimate rights and interests."

Background: Heading into 2018, China's long-held philosophy had been to speak softly and carry a big stick. Its military was working to dominate Southeast Asia by land and sea, it was growing its Belt and Road Initiative globally and making loans to low-income countries to win friends and strategic allies.

  • As Trump began his confrontation, China agreed to many concessions, including buys of more U.S. goods, pulling back cyber-espionage, amending the law to ban forced technology transfers and cracking down on IP infringement in order to get "a bit of elbow room," Keyu Jin, associate professor of economics at the London School of Economics, wrote in January.

But the time for reconciliation looks to have passed and a new, emboldened China is emerging, one that is not afraid to take the fight directly to the U.S.

  • There are differing factions inside China, Jin tells Axios. "Some want to cave in ... some want to stay strong and resist." President Xi Jinping and the country's policymakers appear to now be siding with the latter faction.

What's next?

  • "[W]e will have another type of Cold War," Da Wei, professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing, said on PBS' "Frontline."
  • "I think it is a comprehensive confrontation. ... If that happens it will last for quite a long time. That's a tragedy for everyone."

Why it matters: Market analysts at both Morgan Stanley and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch have predicted a prolonged trade war could lead to an outright global recession.

The bottom line: Tuesday's stock market rebound shows investors haven't quite gotten that message.

Go deeper: Trump's long trade war

Go deeper

Neera Tanden withdraws nomination for Office of Management and Budget director

Neera Tanden testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, D.C., in February 2021. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Neera Tanden withdrew her name from nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget after several senators voiced opposition and concern about her qualifications and past combative tweets, President Biden announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Tanden’s decision to pull her nomination marks Biden's first setback in filling out his Cabinet with a thin Democratic majority in the Senate.

What's ahead for the newest female CEOs

Jane Fraser (L) and Rosalind Brewer. Photos: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images; Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The number of women at the helm of America’s biggest companies pales in comparison to men, but is newly growing — and their tasks are huge.

What's going on: Jane Fraser took over at Citigroup this week, the first woman to ever lead a major U.S. bank. Rosalind Brewer will take the reins at Walgreens in the coming weeks (March 15) — a company that's been run by white men for more than a century.

3 hours ago - Health

Biden says U.S. will have enough vaccines for 300 million adults by end of May

President Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden on Tuesday said that ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end May.

Why it matters: That's two months sooner than Biden's previous promise of enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of July.