Trump to impose tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports: White House
US President Donald Trump, warmly welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to what the US leader likes to call the "Winter White House," the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (AFP / JIM WATSON)

President Donald Trump will impose tariffs on about $50 billion in Chinese goods imports to retaliate against the alleged theft of American intellectual property, White House officials said Thursday.

The new import duties will target industrial sectors where "China has sought to acquire an advantage through the unfair acquisition or forced technology transfer from US companies," senior White House economic advisor Everett Eissenstat told reporters.

Trump was due to unveil the sanctions later Thursday.

The products subject to the new tariffs have not yet been officially identified and Thursday's announcement did not immediately impose new import duties.

But the move sent stocks diving on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about two percent ahead of the announcement, and ratcheted up Trump's campaign of confrontation with trading partners.

In a memorandum due to be signed Thursday, Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to publish a proposed list of products that could be subject to tariffs.

He will also direct Lighthizer to take action against China at the World Trade Organization, charging Beijing with preventing US companies from licensing their technology in China.

The measure also directs the US Treasury to develop new proposals to increase safeguards against investments that could compromise US national security.

White House officials said Thursday the actions capped years of efforts to encourage China to end the alleged unfair practices and respect market-oriented practices.

"Those dialogues failed under the Bush and Obama administrations," White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro told reporters.

"The problem is that with the Chinese in this case talk is not cheap, it's been very, very expensive and finally the president decided we needed to move forward."