BEIJING: China warned the United States on Friday that it was "not afraid of a trade war" as it threatened tariffs on $3 billion worth of US goods in retaliation over President Donald Trump's moves against Chinese imports.
Beijing unveiled a hit list of products that could face duties of up to 25%, from fresh fruit to pork and wine, though it stopped short of pulling the trigger as it indicated its readiness to negotiate an agreement.
The latest trade action sent stocks diving as fears rise that the US, which accuses China of mass theft of intellectual property and other unfair practises, could provoke a damaging trade war.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points, while Tokyo closed 4.5% lower, Hong Kong fell 2.45% and Shanghai sank more than 3%.
"China does not want to fight a trade war, but it is absolutely not afraid of a trade war," the commerce ministry said.
Hours earlier, Trump signed an order that also could result in restrictions on Chinese investment in the US, saying it would be the "first of many" trade actions.
Trump poised to unveil China trade sanctions for theft of US intellectual property
"We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on," Trump said as he signed the new trade order, which could include duties as high as 25%.
The action did not immediately impose any new tariffs, but within two weeks US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is due to publish a list of the products that could be hit with tariffs.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday suggested the new measures on intellectual property were a way of bringing Beijing to the table, telling CNBC they were "the prelude to a set of negotiations".
But a senior US official later said that Washington was "not interested in creating terms for a dialogue".
China's commerce ministry warned that a 15% tariff on 120 goods worth almost $1 billion – including fresh fruit, nuts and wine – would be imposed if the US fails to reach a "trade compensation agreement" within an unspecified timeframe.
In a second step, a 25% tariff would be imposed on eight goods totalling nearly $2 billion, including pork and aluminium scrap, after "further evaluating the impact of the US measures on China", the statement said.
The measures were specifically in response to US steel and aluminium tariffs, which were taking effect Friday.