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Published Sep. 14, 2009

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's decision to impose trade penalties on Chinese tires has infuriated Beijing at a time when the United States badly needs Chinese help on climate change, nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea, and the global economy.

China condemned the White House's announcement late Friday as protectionist and said it violated global trade rules. In the United States, the punitive tariffs on all car and light truck tires coming into the country from China may placate union supporters who are important to the president's health care push.

To the White House, it was "simply about enforcing the rules of the road and creating a trade system that is based on those rules and is fair for everyone," spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with Obama on Saturday to a health care event in Minneapolis.

Chen Deming, China's minister of commerce, said the penalties would hurt relations with the United States. A ministry statement said Obama had "compromised to the political pressure of the U.S. domestic trade protectionism."

"The Chinese government will continue to uphold the legitimate interests of China's domestic industry and has the right to take corresponding measures," Deming said.

Obama had until this coming Thursday to accept, reject or modify a U.S. International Trade Commission ruling that a rising tide of Chinese tireshurts American producers. The United Steelworkers union blames the increase for the loss of thousands of American jobs.

Obama settled on a 35 percent tariff in the first year, 30 percent in the second and 25 percent in the third, Gibbs said.