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“The Chinese have sent a strong signal that they are ready to rumble,” said Paul Blustein, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the author of “Schism,” a book due out next month about the fraying relationship between the United States and China. “To depreciate the currency at such a fraught time sends a signal that they are prepared to endure a heck of a lot of pain, and it doesn’t surprise me that markets would finally come around and say, ‘This could be really bad.’”

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