WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused China of "vicious" tactics on trade as he prepared for tough negotiations with European leaders in an escalating trade battle among world powers.
Trump tweeted that China was specifically targeting U.S. farmers with retaliatory tariffs because "they know I love & respect" them. His defense came after his administration announced a plan to provide $12 billion in emergency relief for farmers who have been slammed by the president's trade disputes with China and other countries.
Addressing the China trade relationship, Trump wrote on Twitter, "They are being vicious in what will be their failed attempt. We were being nice - until now!"
Chinese President Xi Jinping said at an international summit in South Africa that the world faces "a choice between cooperation and confrontation," in remarks that criticized escalating U.S. tariffs on goods from China and other major trading partners. He warned that those who pursue "economic hegemony" will "only end up hurting themselves."
The president was meeting at the White House later Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other European officials as their trade dispute threatens to spread to automobile production.
Trump has placed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, saying they pose a threat to U.S. national security, an argument that the European Union and Canada rejects. He has also threatened to slap tariffs on imported cars, trucks and auto parts, potentially targeting imports that last year totaled $335 billion.
The European Union has warned that it will retaliate with tariffs on products worth $20 billion if Trump puts duties on cars and auto parts from Europe.
On Tuesday, Trump suggested in a tweet that "both the U.S. and the E.U. drop all Tariffs, Barriers and Subsidies! That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready - but they won't!"
The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods in a dispute over Beijing's high-tech industrial policies. China has struck back with duties on soybeans and pork, affecting Midwest farmers in a region of the country that supported the president in his 2016 campaign.
Trump has threatened to place penalty taxes on up to $500 billion in products imported from China, a move that would dramatically ratchet up the stakes in the trade dispute involving the globe's biggest economies.
The moves have been unsettling to lawmakers with districts dependent upon manufacturers and farmers affected by the retaliatory tariffs.
The Agriculture Department said it would tap an existing program to provide $12 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers hurt by foreign retaliation to Trump's tariffs and other assistance, such as the purchase of excess crops.
Copyright 2018, Associated Press