Trump orders probe of China's intellectual property rules

Frederick Owens
August 12, 2017

The president plans to sign an executive memorandum Monday afternoon directing his top trade negotiator to determine whether to investigate China for harming intellectual property, innovation and technology, senior administration officials said in a conference call Saturday morning.

In doing so, Mr Trump will attempt to make good on a campaign promise to sort out America's trade deficit, with Chinese imports now dwarfing U.S. exports by some £268n.

Trump, who will interrupt a 17-day working vacation to make a day trip to Washington for the trade announcement, had been expected to seek a so-called Section 301 investigation earlier this month, but an announcement was postponed as the White House pressed for China's cooperation on North Korea.

Officials at the White House and U.S. Trade Representative's office were not immediately available for comment.

The United States has a long list of grievances about China on trade, including accusations of steel dumping and theft of U.S. intellectual property.

Should an investigation find wrongdoing, Trump could impose tariffs against Chinese imports, which would mark a significant escalation in his efforts to reshape the trade relationship between the world's two largest economies.

The White House has sent out mixed messages on the policy, as Mr. Trump's campaign-rally denunciations of China collide with the complexities of a codependent geopolitical relationship.

While China joined in a unanimous U.N. Security Council decision to tighten economic sanctions on Pyongyang, Trump has kept up pressure on Beijing to do more.

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Despite Mr. Trump's promises to be tougher than previous presidents on trade, his administration has proceeded with high levels of caution.

North Korea is both an ally and trading partner of China's, and the Chinese government is wary of cutting off Pyongyang to the point of economic collapse for fear to would create a refugee crisis in its northern provinces. Trump has previously expressed frustration that China hasn't done more to economically punish North Korea.

On Thursday he told reporters: "We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China".

"If China helps us, I feel a lot different toward trade".

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by telephone on Friday and reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, the White House said in a statement.

"If Americans continue to have their best technology and intellectual property stolen, or forcibly transferred offshore, the United States will find it hard to maintain its current technology leadership position and to remain one of the world's most innovative economies".

"We would like to emphasize that the Chinese government has always attached importance to intellectual property protection", a spokesman said.

In a background briefing with reporters on Saturday, White House officials pointed to frustration from US businesses that they have to share intellectual property with China as a condition for doing business in the country.

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