Trumps signs memorandum addressing China’s practices about intellectual property

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump wants a trade investigation of China for the alleged theft of American technology and intellectual property.

Trump signed an executive order Monday 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.

In a phone call Friday, Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for backing the recent U.N. 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 U.S. officials familiar with that conversation.


On Monday, the president asked U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to look into alleged Chinese violations of U.S. trade agreements.

Related: Trump signs order to crack down on China trade practices

What is the issue?

Lighthizer has been tasked with figuring out if an investigation is needed into allegations that China stole valuable commercial secrets from American companies doing business in China, or forced them to share plans for innovation.

U.S. companies say that China forces them to give up trade secrets in exchange for access to the country’s sizable market. Think tanks, industry groups and the U.S. government contend that Beijing is also hacking and spying its way to the top of the high-tech industry. China denies it all.

Related: How China squeezes tech secrets from U.S. companies

So that means … tariffs?

No. The president’s memo doesn’t mean an official investigation is underway — yet. Lighthizer will recommend an official probe if needed. If that happens, and if the government finds evidence of wrongdoing, then Trump could impose tariffs on Chinese imports.

Got it. But wait — does any of this have to do with North Korea?

Trump talked a lot about Chinese trade practices during his campaign. But in April he said he’d back off in exchange for Beijing’s help in pressuring North Korea to ditch its nuclear weapon program.

Tensions with Pyongyang have been intensifying, however, and Trump has grown frustrated with the lack of progress. One day after North Korea tested a ballistic missile that it claims can reach all of the United States, Trump expressed his disappointment in China. “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet … they do NOTHING for us with North Korea,” he tweeted.

Related: Chinese media: Trump’s trade probe will ‘poison’ relations

What does China say?

According to state-run newspaper China Daily, the Trump administration’s move could “poison the overall China-U.S. relationship.”

Information from the Associated Press is included in this story.