It's an uneasy time for automakers that have a lot of chips on the table in China.
To recap, President-elect Donald Trump took a phone call from the president of Taiwan. China, in response, flew a bomber over disputed waters near Taiwan and Japan.
Then it was reported that the Chinese government would penalize General Motors for alleged "monopolistic behavior."
Did the Chinese fly the regulatory equivalent of a bomber over GM? Government officials quoted by Reuters denied any such implications, saying the sanctions were part of a continuing campaign against anti-competitive practices.
Perhaps. But the timing was striking. It follows a saber-rattling editorial last month in the Chinese newspaper Global Times, described in a BBC report as "reflecting the views of the Communist Party."
Trump has vowed a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S. According to the BBC, the editorial said China would respond "tit for tat" against a tariff. The newspaper's list of products that could be hit included "U.S. auto sales."
Foreign automakers that build cars in China would not be vulnerable to tariffs. But, as the move against GM indicates, the government has other levers it could pull.
Ford's sales in China have been growing. But GM is uniquely vulnerable to disruption of its business there.
GM was an early mover in China, its strength there helping it survive bankruptcy. Today, China is GM's biggest market. Through November, GM's joint ventures posted 3,435,788 retail sales in China. Compare that to 2,723,667 sales in the U.S. in the same period.
Not the kind of business you want entangled in a trade war, is it? Among other headaches, a bilateral U.S.-China spat could advantage European and Asian automakers operating in China.
Perhaps we're just in a period of bluster and posturing. Perhaps U.S. automakers' business ties in China are strong enough to weather a squall or two. I'm sure GM and Ford hope so.