President Donald Trump has indicated that he is willing to slap tariffs on every Chinese good imported to the U.S. should the need arise.
"I'm ready to go to 500," the president told CNBC's Joe Kernen in a "Squawk Box" interview aired Friday.
The reference is to the dollar amount of Chinese imports the U.S. accepted in 2017 — $505.5 billion to be exact, compared with the $129.9 billion the U.S. exported to China, according to Census Bureau data.
Thus far in the burgeoning trade war, the U.S. has slapped tariffs on just $34 billion of Chinese products, which China met with retaliatory duties.
By sheer dollar volume, the Chinese won't be able to come close to the U.S. in a tit-for-tat battle. Trump's comments point to a willingness to push the envelope as far as the U.S. needs to get Chinese tariff concessions, along with a pledge to stop allegedly stealing American technology.
"I'm not doing this for politics, I'm doing this to do the right thing for our country," Trump said. "We have been ripped off by China for a long time."
Trump said the U.S. is "being taken advantage of" on a number of fronts, including trade and monetary policy. Yet he said he has not pushed the tariffs out of any ill will toward China.
"I don't want them to be scared. I want them to do well," he said. "I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair."
Trump also said he was told by unspecified Chinese officials that "nobody would ever complain" from past administrations "until you came along — me. They said, 'Now you're more than complaining. We don't like what you're doing.'"