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China is the world's export giant. Each year, it sells more than $2 trillion worth of goods around the world. Other countries often say one way China has reached the top is through unfair trade practices, like dumping products below cost to kill off competitors. President Trump has stopped short of direct action against China on trade, but that may soon change. NPR's Jim Zarroli has more.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: In his rhetoric at least, Trump has never been afraid to take on China. Here he was in a 2015 TV interview complaining that China's markets remain closed to U.S. companies.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: China dumps all their stuff with us. And I'm not complaining about that. But I have friends that are manufacturers. They cannot get their product into China. So if they're going to do it to us, we have to do it to them.
ZARROLI: For all his tough talk, Trump has so far not really pressed his case with China. That's partly because he needs Beijing's help with North Korea but also because companies such as Boeing that make a lot of money in China are terrified of a trade war. Still, a clash seems almost inevitable. Edward Alden is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
EDWARD ALDEN: If you're concerned about the large U.S. trade deficit, which the president is and has said he is repeatedly, most of that's a China problem.
ZARROLI: There are signs Trump is starting to match his rhetoric with action. The administration is increasingly dominated by trade hard-liners like Peter Navarro, author of such books as "The Coming China Wars," "Death By China" and "Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means For The World."
PETER NAVARRO: It's staggering - staggering what China does in terms of cheating the international system. And it's refreshing that we finally have a president that is standing up for the American people and standing up to China on this.
ZARROLI: In an interview with NPR, Navarro says it's not just the United States that has issues with China. Countries throughout Asia and Europe have similar complaints about intellectual property theft and illegal subsidies.
NAVARRO: I think there's a widespread and growing consensus around the world that China is not playing by the rules and that together we, as allies and trading partners, need to take many, many different kinds of measures to ensure a level playing field.
ZARROLI: But so far, the White House has mostly acted on its own. This week, the administration blocked Singapore-based Broadcom's efforts to acquire U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm. Officials said the sale would leave the American chip industry vulnerable to Chinese competition. It's launched an investigation into Chinese trade and is about to issue a report. Edward Alden says the report could lead to trade sanctions under something called Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.
ALDEN: The Trump administration has made it very clear that it believes that it has the authority under Section 301 to threaten and-or impose tariffs on China directly over these practices.
ZARROLI: China has made clear it won't be pushed around, but it has gradually accommodated some of the complaints about its behavior. Dan Ikenson of the Cato Institute notes that trade disputes are supposed to be handled by the World Trade Organization, and he worries about the U.S. acting on its own.
DANIEL IKENSON: My main concern is that we actually go forward with these unilateral duties, and the rest of the world sees the United States as disavowing the WTO. China retaliates. And so the costs start to spread, you know, across the U.S. economy.
ZARROLI: The risk, he says, is that Trump's actions could upend the global trade rules that have been carefully developed over the years. That would have repercussions around the world. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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