China rejects 'blackmail' on eve of United States tariff hike

China flag and the U.S. Stars and Stripes fly on a lamp post Pennsylvania in Washington

Two of the largest economies in the world have descended into a trade war, after China followed up on its threat to retaliate against the $34bn (£25.7bn) United States tariffs.

Washington has "ignited the biggest trade war in economic history", said a Commerce Ministry statement.

Washington increased tariffs at 12:01am on $US34 billion worth of Chinese imports, a first step in what could become an accelerating series of tariffs.

China has said it will not "fire the first shot" in a trade war with the United States, but its customs agency made clear on Thursday that Chinese tariffs on American goods would take effect immediately after USA duties on Chinese goods are put in place. Americans worry that rising Chinese technological prowess might erode USA industrial leadership and prosperity.

"The first round's impact is not that big, but the key is whether there will be more - a second round of revenge and retaliation and a third round, " said Shi Yinhong, a professor of worldwide relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Beijing has vowed to immediately respond with an equal amount of tariffs of its own against USA autos, agricultural and other products, though it is unclear how swiftly the actions could escalate into an all-out trade war.

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And Beijing's tactics may go beyond tariffs to include arbitrary quarantines and a costly uptick in customs inspections.

Trump has warned that the United States may ultimately target over $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, or roughly the total amount that the United States imported from China a year ago, according to Reuters.

But Trump has said his administration will respond to retaliation from Beijing with much bigger waves of tariffs, raising the prospect of worsening tit-for-tat reprisals.

On the Chinese side, fallout from the first round of tariffs was seen as tough but manageable.

US President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday that US tariffs on an additional $16bn in Chinese goods are set to take effect in two weeks. "So we have 50 plus 200 plus nearly 300". He said Washington stood ready to slap duties on hundreds of billions more in Chinese imports once Friday's tariffs took effect.

That would bring the total of targeted Chinese goods to potentially $550 billion, which is more than the $506 billion in goods that China actually shipped to the United States a year ago.

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The American tariffs are the result of Mr Trump's attempt to protect U.S. jobs and stop "unfair transfers of American technology and intellectual property to China".

A Global Times commentary suggested the USA was futilely trying to contain China's progress, stating, "If the U.S. is determined to escalate conflicts with China, then so be it".

Of the $34 billion of Chinese goods targeted by the U.S., around 59%, or $20 billion, is produced by foreign-owned companies, including some from the U.S., Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said Thursday.

A commodities trader in eastern Shandong province was told by customs at a major northern port that they have slowed the clearance of goods from the United States on Beijing's list.

The US tariffs imposed so far would affect the equivalent of 0.6% of global trade and account for 0.1% of global GDP, according to Morgan Stanley. If the U.S.is determined to escalate conflicts with China, then so be it. "Half of all US manufacturing jobs depend on exports, (and) one in three acres on American farms is planted for global sales". Trump has added to the tension by threatening new tariffs on cars. "It's very hard to see this happening in the current environment". "That's impossible. China won't accept that, " he said, adding "what happens next depends on the United States".

Trump has railed against Beijing for intellectual property theft and barriers to entry for United States businesses and a $375 billion U.S. trade deficit with China.

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