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Trump opens door to investigating China's 'theft' of U.S. intellectual property

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

President Trump on Monday will start a process that could lead to action against China, which has been accused of stealing American businesses' intellectual property, even as he seeks Beijing's help against nuclear threats from North Korea.

Several administration officials outlined the highly preliminary trade action to reporters Saturday, suggesting — contrary to Trump's own statements — that trade policy toward China is divorced from any national security concern, including North Korea. 

"Trade is trade; national security is national security," said one official, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with administration practice.

As recently as Thursday, the president volunteered a connection between the two, and not for the first time, in remarks to reporters about his weeklong nuclear standoff with North Korea. Trump suggested that if China helped rein in North Korea, which is reliant on Beijing's economic and security aid, he could lighten up on his attacks on Chinese trade practices, which were a mainstay of his election campaign.

"We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It’s not going to continue like that," Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. "But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade — a lot differently toward trade."

The officials would not confirm reports that the trade action Trump plans to initiate on Monday had been delayed more than a week, until the administration secured China's support last week to win a unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council for imposing new sanctions on North Korea.

The president's trade action will be a long way from any punitive move against China, despite his and his advisors' open talk of Chinese "theft" and "stealing" of U.S. companies' intellectual property, which broadly includes technological innovations, film and other artistic products, industrial designs and military secrets.

He simply will initiate the latest investigation of intellectual property theft in a long line of them running back through past administrations.

According to Trump advisors, on Monday, the president plans to sign an executive memorandum, which is a step below an executive order, directing trade officials to investigate China's "acts, policies or practices" that violate international protections for American intellectual property, innovations and technology.

As a prime example of what the officials called China's "unfair trade practices," they objected that the country requires American businesses that want to operate there to form joint ventures with state-run companies and share intellectual property with them.

The American companies "should not be forced or coerced to turn over the fruits of their labor," one official said. 

The investigation could take as much as a year, another official said. The advisors did not speculate about further actions, which might result in such things as tariffs on imports from China or a formal complaint and appeal for sanctions to the World Trade Organization.

"We're at the beginning" of a long process, one advisor said.

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