A U.S. decision to impose added duty on Chinese-made tires is an abuse of World Trade Organization safeguard measures, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Tuesday.

The duties send the wrong message to the world, ministry spokesman Yao Jian told a news conference.

The tire duty was the first time Washington has applied special safeguard provisions Beijing agreed to before joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. The safeguard can be invoked if a surge in imports hurts U.S. manufacturers.

China promptly said it would seek consultations with the U.S. over the duties, a preliminary step toward seeking a WTO ruling on the measures.

Yao Jian said that Beijing does not want to see the case negatively impact Sino-U.S. ties but added that Chinese officials would reiterate their opposition to trade protectionism at the upcoming G20 summit of world leaders in the steelmaking city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Ministry of Commerce said on Sunday it would launch its own investigation into chicken parts and automotive imports from the United States.

China's vice minister of commerce, Zhong Shan, called the tire duties protectionist in a statement posted on the ministry's website on Monday.

He said China would encourage and assist its tire manufacturers to move up the value chain and produce more medium- to high-grade tires.

We will listen carefully to the voices and suggestions of the companies, take active measures, and coordinate with them to handle and solve the problems they meet, Zhong Shan said.

Some Chinese media have emphasized counter-measures to be taken against the tire duties, while others have sought to downplay the impact on the overall trade relationship between the world's largest and third-largest economies.

The possibility of triggering a trade war is not big, the 21st Century Business Herald cited commerce ministry sources as saying.

(Additional reporting by Huang Yan; Editing by Ken Wills and Jeremy Laurence)