Saying it would be the "first of many" trade actions, Trump signed the order that also will look at restrictions on Chinese investment in the US.
"We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on," Trump said.
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.
The products subject to the new tariffs have not yet been identified.
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 confrontational stance with trading partners.
Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to identify 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 on 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 through negotiations.
Navarro said Trump had been at pains to encourage Beijing to cooperate with American entreaties to open Chinese markets and end unfair practices.
"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."
As Trump has taken progressive steps toward confrontation, Beijing has repeatedly warned that trade wars benefited no one and that China would not stand idly by as Washington imposed punitive new measures.
American industry, and US agriculture in particular, have voiced exceptional concerns that Trump's moves could spark retaliatory measures and hurt US exporters.
But Navarro told reporters that China benefitted far more from trade relations with the United States than the reverse, meaning retaliation could be difficult for Beijing.
The new moves on China come weeks after the White House suddenly announced punishing new import tariffs on steel and aluminum, which have outraged trading partners and Republican lawmakers alike.
European officials this week have made high-level visits to press their case that they be excluded from the tariffs -- which are due to take effect on Friday.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)