Last week China put tariffs on U.S.-built cars. The tariffs, which will last two years, range from 2.0 to 21.5 percent on cars with engine displacement of 2.5 liters and greater.
General Motors and Chrysler face the biggest anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties, but BMW and Mercedes also will have tariffs imposed on cars built in the United States and shipped to China.
It seems bizarre at best and at worst like the start of a trade war.
There are many who think the Chinese government eventually will remove Western ownership from all the joint ventures there and take over the automobile industry once the Chinese have the technical and creative know-how to keep their auto industry in business.
Meanwhile, the government is doing things to stifle the growth of the Western companies' equity and influence.
Not long ago, GM faced the prospect of being forced to share electric car technology before the Chinese would allow the company to sell the Volt in China and maybe even build it there.
The tariffs on imported vehicles are surprising from a country that so superbly manipulates its currency and foreign trade.
European and American automobile companies have been falling all over themselves to set up operations in China.
They have invested billions of dollars and brought the latest technology to Chinese buyers. As a result, there can be few if any secrets that Western companies can keep from Chinese auto manufacturers.
The Chinese are trying hard to create an indigenous automobile industry by developing proprietary products and brands. But when left to their own talents, they don't seem ready to become world-class creators of world-class vehicles. They don't have the engineering or design talent to compete globally -- yet.
It seems like just a matter of time until they are capable of creating vehicles that will be competitive worldwide.
When that happens, it would not surprise many automobile executives if the government nationalized the entire Chinese auto industry.
Putting tariffs on vehicles built in the United States sends the wrong message to the U.S. government and the global manufacturers that invested all those billions in China.
What the governments do and what car companies around the world do about this first salvo will be interesting. These could be precarious times.