China state media slams Trump's "gang of hoodlums" as tariffs loom

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON, July 6 (Reuters) - China's state media lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, accusing the White House of behaving like a "gang of hoodlums" as the world's two biggest economies careened towards the start of an outright trade war.

The United States is set to impose tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports from 0401 GMT on Friday and has warned it may ultimately target over $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, or roughly the total amount that the United States imported from China last year.

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

"In effect, the Trump administration is behaving like a gang of hoodlums with its shakedown of other countries, particularly China," the state-run China Daily newspaper said in an English language editorial on Friday.

"Its unruliness looks set to have a profoundly damaging impact on the global economic landscape in the coming decades, unless countries stand together to oppose it."

China's foreign minister said in a statement on Friday that trade protectionism and unilateral actions were "short-sighted" and called on European counties to work with China to safeguard a globally free trade system.

Earlier on Thursday China accused the United States of "opening fire" on the world with its raft of tariffs aimed at China, but also at trade partners in North America and Europe.

The dispute has roiled financial markets including stocks, currencies and the global trade of commodities from soybeans to coal in recent weeks. U.S. stocks edged higher on Thursday, however, amid hopes that American trade tensions with Europe may ease after comments from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Stocks in Asia were edgy in early Friday trade.

"This is not economic armageddon. We will not have to hunt our food with pointy sticks. But it is applying the brakes to a global economy that has less durable momentum than appears to be the case," Rob Carnell, chief economist at ING, said in a note to clients.

NO LAST-MINUTE TALKS?

China's Global Times, a widely-read tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, said China "does not want to get involved in a trade war," but that it would not back down against the United States.

"If the U.S. is determined to escalate conflicts with China then so be it," the newspaper said in an editorial. "Perhaps the Trump administration can only clear its mind after a fight."

There was no evidence of last-minute negotiations between U.S. and Chinese officials, business sources in Washington and Beijing said. Requests for comment went unanswered at the U.S. Treasury, USTR and the U.S. Commerce Department.

The China Daily editorial said there should be no doubting Beijing's resolve and that China would not give into blackmail. "China, which is in the crosshairs of the Trump administration's racketeering gun sights, has no choice but to fight back."

Beijing has said it will not "fire the first shot" in a trade war with the United States, but has made clear that Chinese tariffs on American goods would take effect immediately after U.S. duties on Chinese goods are put in place.

CARS, DISK DRIVES AND PUMP PARTS

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are due to collect 25 percent duties on a range of products including motor vehicles, computer disk drives, parts of pumps, valves and printers and many other industrial components.

The list avoids direct tariffs on consumer goods such as cellphones and footwear. But some products, including thermostats, are lumped into intermediate and capital goods categories.

Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said on Thursday that the proposed U.S. tariffs would hit many American and foreign companies operating in China and disrupt their supplies of components and assembly work.

China has threatened to respond with tariffs on hundreds of U.S. goods, including top exports such as soybeans, sorghum and cotton, threatening U.S. farmers in states that backed Trump in the 2016 U.S. election, such as Texas and Iowa.

Chinese buying of soybeans has already ground nearly to a halt ahead of the duties.

Asked whether U.S. 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.

Gao said China's foreign trade was expected to continue on a stable path in the second half of the year, though investors fear a full-blown Sino-American trade war would deal a blow to Chinese exports and its economy.

Foreign companies accounted for $20 billion, or 59 percent, of the $34 billion of exports from China that would be subject to new U.S. tariffs, with U.S. firms accounting for a significant part of that 59 percent, Gao said.

FORD MAINTAINS CHINA PRICING

U.S. carmaker Ford Motor Co said on Thursday it has no plans to hike retail prices of its imported Ford and Lincoln models in China, despite the steep additional tariffs on imported U.S. vehicles set to come into play on Friday. Ford said it would "continue to monitor the situation as it evolves."

Adding to the tensions, a Chinese court this week temporarily barred Micron Technology Inc from selling its main semiconductor products in the world's biggest memory chip market, citing violation of patents held by Taiwan's United Microelectronics Corp (UMC).

Beijing has made the semiconductor sector a key priority under its "Made in China 2025" strategy, which has intensified after a U.S. ban on sales to Chinese phone maker ZTE Corp underscored China's lack of domestic chips. (Reporting by Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI, Elias Glenn in BEIJING, David Lawder and Jeff Mason WASHINGTON Editing by Shri Navaratnam)