THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK now stands at two minutes until midnight, meaning that, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, humanity is closer to nuclear war than we’ve been since 1953. Economists are worried about a different kind of conflict: a trade war with China.

Fears that a decades-long “cold trade war” with China would escalate into a more serious conflict reached new heights last summer when the Trump administration announced an investigation into whether the country’s intellectual-property policies harm US businesses.

Since then, the federal government has only stoked those fears. Congress reportedly pressured AT&T and Verizon to drop plans to sell phones made by China’s Huawei, Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would block government agencies from doing business with contractors that use networking gear from Chinese companies, regulators blocked the sale of money-transfer company MoneyGram to an affiliate of China’s Alibaba, and President Donald Trump announced a 30 percent tariff on foreign-made solar panels.

The results of the IP investigation are expected any day, leaving analysts bracing for possible retaliation from China. This week, China announced its own investigation into sorghum imports from the US, and asked the World Trade Organization to review the solar-panel tariffs. More drastic action could follow if the US takes additional steps after the IP investigation.

The back-and-forth with China, along with US saber-rattling in other arenas, has some US tech companies concerned. “We’re worried about the politically motivated demonization of global trade,” says Jamie Girard of SEMI, a trade group representing the makers of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment.

Tech companies could benefit if China alters its policies around intellectual property, but the industry could suffer if it’s caught in the crossfire of a trade war. It’s hard to gauge the stakes precisely: Most tech companies don’t report sales to China, and many, including Google and Facebook, do little or no business there.

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