"China promised not to fire the first shot, but in order to safeguard the country's core interests as well as that of the people, it is forced to fight back", a spokesperson for China's ministry of commerce said, according to news agency Xinhua.
Beijing's commerce ministry, in a statement shortly after the United States deadline passed on Friday, said the world's No. 2 economy was forced to retaliate by placing jacked-up 25 percent tariffs on U.S. cars, soybeans and lobsters.
While the initial volley of tariffs was not expected to have major immediate economic impact, the fear is that a prolonged battle would disrupt makers and importers of affected goods in a blow to global trade, investment and growth.
Moments later, the Chinese side fired back, accusing the United States of violating WTO rules setting off "the largest trade war in economic history to date".
Tariffs on an additional $16 billion of Chinese goods are set to take effect in two weeks, President Trump has said.
Adding to concerns this week was a leaked report suggesting Trump had asked his officials to look at pulling the USA out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) altogether.
And Beijing's tactics may go beyond tariffs to include arbitrary quarantines and a costly uptick in customs inspections. China still has outstanding sales of about 771,000 tons of USA soybeans in the 2017-2018 marketing year and 1.39 million tons in the following season, USDA records show.
"Some of it is priced in but then this is an ongoing story and what can definitively be said that we are entering a period of much greater uncertainty than before", said Neil Mellor, a senior currency strategist at BNY Mellon in London. The US trade deficit in goods with China ballooned to a record US$375.2 billion past year, stoking his ire.
"Imposing 25% tariffs on U.S. whiskeys could put the brakes on an American export success story", Christine LoCascio, senior vice president for worldwide trade at the Council, said in a statement.
Shaun Rein, managing director at the China Market Research Group in Shanghai, said the Chinese government's next play could be to stoke anti-American sentiments among consumers - similar to the boycotts it ordered a year ago on South Korea's Lotte Group, which caused dozens of the company's convenience stores to shutter.
Hikaru Sato at Daiwa Securities said markets had already factored in the impact of the first round of tariffs.
The president believes this is the best way to close the trade deficit between the USA and China.
On the streets of Beijing, there were some concerns that prices would rise due to the tariffs but also a determination to support the Beijing authorities in the trade war. It accused the United States of "typical trade bullying". The rest of the world would suffer collateral damage, even if the United States were to refrain from penalising imports from other countries.
Trump has charged the country with stealing US intellectual property and for subsidizing steel to artificially low prices, giving it unfair trade advantage.
European stocks trimmed gains and USA equity-index futures fluctuated after China said it's retaliating to US trade tariffs that kicked in Friday.
'There should be no doubting Beijing's resolve, ' the newspaper said.