Most recently, the U.S. levied duties on $200 billion worth of goods from China, prompting Beijing to put tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods.
Some have speculated that China could hit back at the U.S. in a far more significant way: selling a huge chunk of the more than $1 trillion of U.S. Treasury bonds it holds.
China has collected billions in interest payments from the bonds.
In the interview, which aired on “Squawk Box,” Mnuchin said a Trump meeting with Xi at the G-20 summit would happen if the administration believed it would be positive.
“These tariffs are very important negotiating tools,” Mnuchin said. “If it looks like we can make positive direction, then I’m sure the president will have the meeting.”
The Trump administration launched its tariffs campaign in the spring to try to get China to change what the U.S. feels are unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property.
In the interview, Mnuchin also said the stock market plunge this week was a “natural correction.”
—CNBC’s Bryan Borzykowski contributed to this report.
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