WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump said he will confront China "very strongly" over trade in the coming weeks, as his administration plans to announce today a final list of tariff targets, which will be imposed shortly thereafter.
"China could be a little bit upset about trade because we are very strongly clamping down on trade," Mr Trump said in an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier which aired on Wednesday. The interview was conducted aboard Air Force One after Mr Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
The comments will heighten expectations that China will retaliate with tariffs of its own if the United States goes ahead with its plans.
A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry reiterated at a briefing in Beijing yesterday that previous progress in trade talks will be lost if the US introduces new tariffs.
Mr Trump convened a meeting at the White House yesterday to talk with his trade team about whether to move forward with tariffs on Chinese goods, according to two people familiar with the plans.
"You will see over the next couple of weeks. They understand what we are doing," he said before praising his good personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China could be a little bit upset about trade because we are very strongly clamping down on trade... You will see over the next couple of weeks. They understand what we are doing.
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
The White House has said it is proceeding with plans to impose duties on US$50 billion (S$66.7 billion) of Chinese goods, after weeks of high level-discussions between the US and China yielded little progress.
The Trump administration is reviewing a flood of comments to refine its initial list of US$50 billion in imports that it revealed in April. In its preliminary list, the US said it would levy an additional 25 per cent duty on everything from TV components to dishwashers.
China has previously threatened to respond with proportional duties on everything from American soya beans to airplanes.
Both countries have been trying to negotiate a truce to the trade spat. But at the last round of talks in Beijing, China warned that it will withdraw any commitments if Mr Trump carries out his threat to impose duties.
If the US and China descend into tit-for-tat tariffs, investors will become increasingly nervous about the prospect of a protracted trade dispute that will drag on global growth, said Mr Michael Every, head of financial markets research at Rabobank Group in Hong Kong.
"Trade is going to be far more unpredictable going forward and so far, markets keep trying to shrug it off as if it isn't going to happen," Mr Every told Bloomberg Television.
The US administration is expected to put the Chinese tariffs into effect next month, said Mr Ted Murphy, managing partner at the Washington office of law firm Baker McKenzie.
"That would be my baseline case: that they are going to publish a final list on Friday with an effective date of July 1," said Mr Murphy, who sits on a trade committee that advises the Commerce Department and US Trade Representative's office.
"Things change on a tweet, so if they think China is negotiating in good faith, they could delay it," he added.
Businesses are lobbying to shape the final US list, with many firms pushing for exclusions for products they use in their supply chains.
Almost 125 companies testified in Washington during three days of hearings last month to collect feedback over the tariffs. Many warned that the tariffs would increase costs and raise prices for consumers.
Mr Trump's warning comes just days after his meeting in Singapore with Mr Kim over North Korea's nuclear weapons. China is a key player in talks to wind down the North's nuclear programme and bring peace to the Korean peninsula.
Mr Trump on Tuesday thanked China for tightening its sanctions on trade with North Korea, arguing that the economic pressure along North Korea's north-west border had helped bring Mr Kim to the negotiating table.
The tariffs move would come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and its traditional trading and security partners. A meeting of the Group of Seven ended in chaos after Mr Trump revoked support for a joint statement and lashed out at fellow leaders.