WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump yesterday defended his trade war with China as tensions escalated and markets extended their losses, promising a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon, even as fears escalated about a protracted battle.
In a string of early-morning tweets, Mr Trump kept up his "America First" agenda in support of hefty tariffs and called on US companies to back him by moving their businesses away from China. But he softened his tone on soya beans and other agricultural products, appealing to Beijing to act.
"When the time is right, we will make a deal with China," Mr Trump said. "It will all happen, and much faster than people think!"
"Hopefully China will do us the honour of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your country will be making up the difference," he wrote in the post addressing US farmers, who have been among the hardest hit in the trade war.
Last week, the head of the US Department of Agriculture said more aid was being planned for US farmers, but gave no details.
Mr Trump said on Monday that he expected to meet President Xi at a G-20 leaders' summit in Japan late next month.
Based on an accelerated schedule laid out by the US Trade Representative's Office (USTR) late on Monday, Mr Trump will be in a position to launch 25 per cent tariffs on another US$300 billion (S$411 billion) worth of Chinese goods when he meets Mr Xi, adding potential leverage.
The USTR said it would hold a public hearing on the tariff list on June 17, with final comments due as early as seven days later.
The list includes a wide range of consumer goods, from cellphones and computers to clothing and footwear, but it excludes pharmaceuticals, some speciality compounds and rare-earth minerals.
As negotiations towards resolving the US-China trade war stalled last week, Mr Trump escalated pressure by increasing tariffs last Friday to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on a previous US$200 billion list of Chinese imports.
China retaliated on Monday with higher tariffs on a revised list of US$60 billion worth of US products. The prospect of the global economy being derailed by the US and China sliding into a fiercer, more protracted dispute has rattled investors and sparked a sharp sell-off on equities markets in the past week.
Mr Trump said yesterday he could make a deal with Beijing now, but would not be burned again, and criticised China for scuttling a recent close deal with a last-minute attempt to renegotiate.
"We are in a much better position now than any deal we could have made," he said, part of 10 tweets addressing the China talks, including a suggestion that the US Federal Reserve tie interest rates to China's if Beijing lowers rates.
He said he saw his administration's trade efforts with China as a model for US negotiations with other nations as he initiates talks with Europe and seeks to ratify a pact with Canada and Mexico.
Sources have said talks stalled after China tried to delete commitments from a draft agreement that its laws would be changed to enact new policies on issues from intellectual property protection to forced technology transfers.
China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday it had "no information to offer at present" on a possible meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Xi. "The two heads of state maintain contact through various means," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing.
Mr Geng also said China hopes the US does not "underestimate China's determination and will to safeguard its interests".
"My understanding is that China and the United States have agreed to continue pursuing relevant discussions. As for how they are pursued, I think that hinges upon further consultations between the two sides," he added, without giving details.
Mr Geng put the blame on Washington for going back on its word in some previous rounds of talks, including last May, when the two reached an agreement in Washington but the US then backed out a few days later.
Meanwhile, China's state media ramped up attacks on Washington and its trade tactics in a spree of editorials and commentaries.
The ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily said in a commentary yesterday that the US needed to "give it a rest" with the complaints that it was losing out to China in the trade relationship because China was a hugely profitable market for US companies.
"US consumers, farmers, businesses and so on have become the victims of the trade frictions provoked by the United States. They are not victims of China's 'unfair competition'," it said.