"If the U.S. levels punitive tariffs on Chinese goods then, in a worst-case scenario, China can retaliate by leveling similar tariff on U.S. goods," explained Victor Gao, a Chinese international affairs expert who worked as a translator for late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. "That will create a vicious cycle and everyone will be a loser."
Many American giants such as Apple, GM and Ford rely on China both for the manufacture of goods at low prices and as a huge consumer market.
The likely outcome of disrupting this symbiosis? Higher prices hitting the wallets of blue-collar Americans.
Trump's campaign was built in part on a promise to return industrial jobs to areas such as the Rust Belt. But whatever economic penalties China might pay in a trade war, there would not likely be a direct benefit for the U.S., experts believe.
Apple might be compelled to move its export manufacturing base from the Chinese city of Shenzhen to another place such as Vietnam, while a shoe company like Nike could move to somewhere like Indonesia. Even if some vacancies did trickle back to the States, most would probably be filled by robots.
Not everyone predicts even losses, with some suggesting China might actually welcome such a war.
Tang Xiaoyang, deputy director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, thinks China might benefit from the U.S. tearing up international trade agreements.
"A trade war would cause confusion and complication for the global economy but in the long term it would not hurt China, it would rather hurt the country that launched it, the United States," he said. "China is already strong enough to resist such a trade war."
Tang said the China that Trump has been bashing no longer exists. It's no longer focused on cheap labor that earned it the nickname "the workshop of the world." Rather, it's now concentrating on manufacturing its own products to compete with imports from the U.S. and elsewhere.
In May, China unveiled a grand industrial strategy "Made in China 2025,"including plans to grow its own brands in areas such as computing equipment, robotics and the aerospace industry.
"Trump sounds like he's attacking the China of five years ago," Tang said. "iPhones, movies, cars — these things China is able to make itself but with less well-known brands. A trade war might even benefit its own brands and its own products."
Other experts say Trump's allegation that China is a currency manipulator is also outdated. The U.S. and others have previously alleged that Beijing suppressed the value of the yuan so its exports would be cheaper.