In its preliminary decision Tuesday, the department concluded the Chinese government provided illegal export subsidies to manufacturers there.
The rates of the tariffs range from 2.9 percent to 4.73 percent.
In a statement Wednesday, the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products said the anti-subsidy probe was largely politically driven and was against fundamental legal principles, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reports.
"The decision by the U.S. Commerce Department wasn't made in accordance with the facts," the CCCME statement said.
"Chinese producers of photovoltaic solar panels neither receive illegal governmental subsidies nor dump their products on the US market," CCCME maintained.
American imports of Chinese solar panels rose to $2.65 billion last year from $21.3 million in 2005.
The glut of Chinese solar panels to the United States and their plunging prices led to the bankruptcy of three American solar panel makers last August, including Solyndra, the recipient of $535 million in federal loan guarantees.
"Chinese solar panel makers firmly believe that their commercial success resulted from fair competition rather than unfair trade practices and violations to WTO rules," said the CCCME statement.
CCCME said the tariffs would only benefit SolarWorld Industries America Inc., the lead company in a coalition of U.S. solar manufacturers that had called for the anti-subsidy and anti-dumping cases against Chinese solar panel manufacturers.
And CCCME warned the Commerce Department's decision would hold up large-scale development of the American solar power sector by at least five years.
Industry insiders had expected the tariff rates to range from 20 percent to 30 percent.
Li Junfeng, secretary-general of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, said although the tariffs are lower than expected, "that doesn't mean that it's right for Chinese producers to be punished," China Daily reports.
Noting the U.S. decision is preliminary, Li said he expects the United States likely will impose higher punitive tariffs in subsequent legal proceedings. "So Chinese companies need to be prepared," he said.
In May, the Commerce Department is scheduled to decide whether China is flooding the U.S. market with underpriced solar panels.
CCCME said Chinese solar panel producers hope the United States will correct its "unfair and unjust" practices in follow-up investigations.
Meanwhile, Li said the Chinese domestic market for solar panels is growing rapidly.
"The market size was five times as big in 2011 as it was in 2010. We expect the domestic market for solar panels will triple this year," he said.
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