UPDATE 2-U.S. sends China to-do list to reduce trade imbalance - WSJ

* U.S. wants China to cut tariff on U.S. autos, buy more chips - WSJ

* U.S. wants China to give U.S. firms more access to financial sector - WSJ

* U.S., China continue to hold talks on trade imbalance - U.S. treasury spokesman (Adds analyst comments on possible impact on U.S. firms)

BEIJING, March 26 (Reuters) - The United States asked China in a letter last week to cut the tariff on U.S. autos, buy more U.S.-made semiconductors and give U.S. firms greater access to the Chinese financial sector, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources.

Alarm over a possible trade war between the world's two largest economies has chilled financial markets as investors foresee dire consequences should trade barriers go up due to President Donald Trump's bid to cut the U.S. deficit with China.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listed steps that Washington wants China to take in a letter to Liu He, a newly appointed vice premier who oversees China's economy, the Journal said, quoting sources with knowledge of the matter.

The newspaper reported that Mnuchin was considering a visit to Beijing to pursue negotiations.

Fears of a trade war mounted earlier this month after Trump first slapped tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, and then on Thursday specifically targeted China by announcing plans for tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods.

On Friday, China fired a warning shot in response to the U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium by declaring plans to levy additional duties on up to $3 billion of U.S. imports.

Beijing could also inflict pain on U.S. multinationals that rely on China for a substantial - and growing - portion of their total revenues, said Alex Wolf, senior emerging markets economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

"This could put U.S. companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, GM, Nike, etc. in the firing line," Wolf said.

China can increase the regulatory burden on U.S companies through new inspections and rules; ban travel; stop providing export licenses of key intermediate goods; raise the tax burden on U.S. multinationals in China; or block U.S. companies from the government procurement market, he said.

FLOUTED RULES

Trump unveiled the planned tariffs targetting Chinese goods after a U.S. inquiry found China guilty of intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices, by forcing U.S. investors to turn over key technologies to Chinese firms.

On Saturday, Liu told Mnuchin in a telephone call the U.S. inquiry violated international trade rules and Beijing would defend its interests, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A U.S. Treasury spokesman confirmed the call, but declined to comment on the content of any letter or on a possible visit by Mnuchin to Beijing.

"Secretary Mnuchin called Liu He to congratulate him on the official announcement of his new role," the spokesman told Reuters. "They also discussed the trade deficit between our two countries and committed to continuing the dialogue to find a mutually agreeable way to reduce it."

The Trump administration has demanded that China immediately cut its staggering $375 billion trade surplus with the United States by $100 billion.

"The U.S. has been wielding sticks worldwide over the past year. Washington needs to be taught a real lesson and such a lesson can only be taught by China, the world's second-largest economy," Global Times said in an editorial.

The widely-read tabloid is run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, although its stance does not necessarily equate with government policy.

"What we have to recognise is China hasn't measured up to the things we expected of them, in terms of the trade relationship," said William Cohen, chairman of Cohen Group, a Washington-based advisory firm.

"My hope is that they will see this is not the way to go, that we do have to sit and work out an arrangement where the Chinese understand you can't do business the way they've been doing business," the former U.S. defence secretary told Reuters on the sidelines of a forum in Beijing on Sunday.

A commentary published by Xinhua warned the United States against provoking retaliation by China.

"Washington should take Beijing's stance seriously and do not be penny wise and pound foolish, which will hurt itself and others as well," Xinhua said. (Reporting by Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Matthew Miller in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)