Chinese officials “are generally confused,” said Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, a trade specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been traveling around China speaking with officials, businesspeople and workers.

“They don’t know what to do,” he added. “They worry that the tit-for-tat model is playing into Trump’s hands.”

China doesn’t import nearly enough from the United States to target $200 billion in American goods. But China’s leaders feel they can’t back down. They have presented the trade war as part of a broader effort by the United States to contain China’s rise. The Chinese public could see any effort to soothe tensions as capitulation.

Some hard-liners want a more aggressive stance.