A TRADE war between Washington and Beijing showed no sign of abating yesterday. China vowed to fight the United States “at any cost” after President Donald Trump proposed slapping a further $100 billion (£71bn) in tariffs on Chinese products.

In a surprise move ,Trump told the US trade representative to consider the additional tariffs, a day after Beijing announced plans to tax $50bn (£35bn) of American products, ranging from soybeans to small aircraft, in response to a US move to add tariffs on $50bn of Chinese imports.

The commerce ministry in Beijing said China does not want a trade war – but is not afraid to fight one.

“China will dedicate itself to the end and at any cost and will definitely fight back firmly if the US persists in its “protectionism”, it said in a statement.

Trump’s proposal intensified what was already shaping up to be the biggest trade battle since the Second World War.

Global financial markets had dropped sharply as the world’s two biggest economies squared off over Beijing’s aggressive trade tactics. But they calmed down in midweek amid hopes the two would find a diplomatic solution.

Instead, the White House announced after the markets closed on Thursday that Trump had instructed the Office of the United States Trade Representative to consider whether $100bn of additional tariffs would be appropriate and, if so, to identify the products to which they should apply.

He has also instructed his agriculture secretary “to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests”.

“China’s illicit trade practices – ignored for years by Washington – have destroyed thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs,” Trump said.

This escalation comes after the US on Tuesday said it would impose 25 per cent duties on $50bn of imports from China, and China quickly retaliated by listing $50bn of products that it could hit with its own similar tariffs.

The Chinese list included soybeans, the biggest US export to China, and aircraft up to 45 tons in weight, along with American beef, whiskey, passenger vehicles and industrial chemicals.

Earlier in the week, Beijing announced separate import duties on $3bn (£2.1bn) of US goods in response to the Trump administration’s duties on all steel and aluminium imports, including from China.

US officials have sought to play down the threat of a broader trade dispute, saying a negotiated outcome is still possible. But economists have warned that the tit-for-tat moves bear the hallmarks of a classic trade rift that could escalate. And already, the tensions have rattled global stock markets.

US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer called China’s move “unjustified” and said Trump’s proposal was an “appropriate response to China’s recent threat of new tariffs”.

He said: “Such measures would undoubtedly cause further harm to American workers, farmers and businesses. Under these circumstances, the president is right to ask for additional appropriate action to obtain the elimination of the unfair acts, policies, and practices identified in USTR’s report.”

China’s Commerce Ministry said it must “adopt new countermeasures” to protect the interests of the Chinese people but it did not announce any specific moves.

The clash reflects the tension between Trump’s promises to narrow a US trade deficit with China that stood at $375.2bn (£267.8bn) in goods last year and China’s ruling Communist Party’s development ambitions.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Russia and China have jointly denounced what they described as the unilateralism of the US.

Speaking in Moscow after talks with his Russian counterpart, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi strongly criticised Washington’s move hike in tariffs on Chinese goods.

“If the US thinks that it can get advantages through protectionism, its calculus is wrong,” he warned.

His Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said the US action reflects the Trump administration’s unilateralist approach to international concerns. As examples, he cited the US push to renegotiate a nuclear deal with Iran and the terms of an international climate agreement.

Lavrov said: “It has nothing to do with diplomacy. It’s an attempt to enforce its own interests while completely ignoring the interests of others.”