Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

The US is "opening fire" on the world with its threatened tariffs, China warned on Thursday, saying no-one wants a trade war but it will respond the instant US measures go into effect, as Beijing ramped up the rhetoric in the heated dispute.

The Trump administration’s tariffs on $34bn of Chinese imports are due to go into effect at 4am GMT on Friday, which is just after midday in Beijing.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to escalate the trade conflict with tariffs on as much as $450bn worth of Chinese goods if China retaliates, with the row roiling global financial markets including stocks, currencies and the international trade of commodities from soya beans to coal.

China has said it will not "fire the first shot", but its customs agency made clear on Thursday that Chinese tariffs on US goods would take effect immediately after US duties on Chinese goods kick in.

Speaking at a news conference, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng warned the proposed US tariffs would hit global supply chains, including foreign firms in the world’s second-largest economy.

"If the US implements tariffs, they will actually be adding tariffs on companies from all countries, including Chinese and US companies," Gao said.

"US measures are essentially attacking global supply and value chains. To put it simply, the US is opening fire on the entire world, including itself," he said.

"China will not bow down in the face of threats and blackmail and will not falter from its determination to defend free trade and the multilateral system."

Asked whether US companies would be targeted with "qualitative measures" in China in a trade war, Gao said the government would protect the legal rights of all foreign companies in the country.

He said China’s foreign trade was expected to continue on a stable path in the second half of 2018, though investors fear a full-blown Sino-US trade war would deal a body blow to China’s exports and economy.

Foreign firms accounted for $20bn, or 59%, of the $34bn of exports from China that will be subject to new US tariffs, with US firms accounting for a significant part of that 59%, Gao said.

At a separate briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: "We of course don’t want to fight a trade war, but if any country’s legitimate interests are harmed, then of course that country has the right to firmly protect their own interests."