Trump to seek trade probe of China for technology, IP theft

This while seeking Beijing’s help to bring North Korea into line.

BEDMINSTER, NJ — Even as he seeks Beijing’s help on North Korea, President Donald Trump is poised to seek a trade investigation of China for the alleged theft of American technology and intellectual property.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order asking his trade office to consider the probe. In the midst of a 17-day vacation, Trump plans to leave his New Jersey golf club and return to Washington to sign the order.

There is no deadline for deciding if any investigation is necessary. Such an investigation easily could last a year.

Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for backing the recent UN vote to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea, and the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. But Trump also told Xi about the move toward a possible inquiry into China’s trade practices, according to two US officials familiar with that conversation. They were not authorized to publicly discuss the private call and spoke on condition of anonymity.

China announced it will cut off imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ore and other goods in three weeks under UN sanctions imposed against Pyongyang.

In an editorial, the China Daily, a mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, linked Trump’s trade announcement against China to his disappointment over China’s purported failure to rein in North Korea. The newspaper said a trade probe, which could lead to punitive tariffs on Chinese exports, would “poison” US-China relations.

Trump wants government officials to look at Chinese practices that force American companies to share their intellectual property in order to gain access to the world’s second-largest economy. Many US businesses must create joint ventures with Chinese companies and turn over valuable technology assets, a practice that Washington says stifles US economic growth.

Trump’s action amounts to a request that his trade representative determine whether an investigation is needed under the Trade Act of 1974. If an investigation begins, the US government could seek remedies either through or outside of the World Trade Organization.

While Beijing has promised to open more industries to foreign companies, it also has issued new rules on electric car manufacturing, data security, internet censorship and other fields.

An administration official who confirmed that Trump would sign the order contended it was unrelated to the showdown with North Korea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the order before Trump’s formal announcement.

As the crisis involving North Korea has unfolded, Trump has alternated praising China for its help and chiding it for not ratcheting up pressure on its Asian neighbour.

“I think China can do a lot more,” Trump told reporters. “And I think China will do a lot more.”

The president has escalated his harsh criticism of North Korea for days, tweeting Friday that the US had military options “locked and loaded.” Xi, in his phone conversation with Trump, urged calm, the officials said.

Trump, in the past, has tied trade policy to national security, leading to speculation that raising the possibility of a probe – without committing to one – could be a negotiating tactic to get China to step up its assistance with North Korea.

The forced sharing of intellectual property with Chinese firms has been a long-standing concern of the US business community, with reports suggesting that losses stemming from it could total hundreds of billions of dollars annually that cost the US economy millions of jobs.

Trump has requested similar inquiries on trade, but the reports haven’t been delivered on deadline. Trump made addressing the US trade deficit with China a centrepiece of his campaign last year and has suggested raising tariffs on goods from China.

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