Donald Trump has announced a 25% tariff on $50bn of Chinese goods, escalating trade tensions a day after Beijing officials warned China was preparing to retaliate.
The move, after a long war of words, escalates the possibility of a full trade war between the world’s two leading economies.
In a statement, the White House said the tariffs would be levied on goods that “contain industrially significant technologies”. The administration warned it would pursue further levies if China retaliates.
Trump said the US’s trade relationship with China was “no longer sustainable”.
“My great friendship with President Xi [Jinping] of China and our country’s relationship with China are both very important to me,” said Trump. “Trade between our nations, however, has been very unfair, for a very long time.
“The United States can no longer tolerate losing our technology and intellectual property through unfair economic practices.”
The president met his top trade advisers on Thursday to decide when to activate the tariffs, which come as relations with other major trading partners, Canada, the EU and Mexico, have worsened following a fractious meeting of the G7 leaders.
Earlier this week, Trump told Fox News in an interview he was “very strongly clamping down on trade” with China.
Some 1,300 product categories were expected to be targeted for the 25% levy. Full details will be published next week but the statement makes clear that the tariffs will hit “emerging high-technology industries that will drive future economic growth for China, but hurt economic growth for the United States and many other countries”.
The move is aimed at cutting the US trade deficit with China.
China attempted to lessen the levies earlier this month by offering to purchase about $70bn worth of commodities and manufactured goods.
On Thursday China’s top diplomat, state councillor Wang Yi, said there were two choices when it came to the trade issue.
“The first choice is cooperation and mutual benefit” Wang said. “The other choice is confrontation and mutual loss. China chooses the first. We hope the US side can also make the same wise choice. Of course, we have also made preparations to respond to the second kind of choice.”
His comments followed a meeting in Beijing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo said talks had gone well but that the deficit with China was still too high.
“I stressed how important it is for President Trump to rectify that situation so that trade becomes more balanced, more reciprocal and more fair, with the opportunity to have American workers be treated fairly,” Pompeo said.
“We had good and constructive discussions.”