When South Korea decided to host a U.S. anti-ballistic missile system, the lucrative flow of tourists from neighboring China suddenly dried up. When Australia accused Beijing of meddling in its domestic politics and demanded answers over the origins of COVID-19, China stopped buying exports like coal, wine and beef.

It wasn’t until Beijing tried to punish Lithuania for opening a liaison office with Taiwan in 2021 that Washington intervened.

A key outcome from that episode was the creation of a team inside the U.S. State Department to help when Beijing responds to political disputes with economic and trade weapons — what the U.S. and its allies call economic coercion. Demand for that help has been strong, according to the U.S. official in charge of the program.