Donald Trump may seek probe on China tech theft

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BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Even as he seeks Beijing’s help on North Korea, President Trump plans to sign an executive order asking his trade office to consider investigating China for the alleged theft of American technology and intellectual property, an administration official said yesterday.

That step is expected tomorrow but won’t come as a surprise to the Beijing government. 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.

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 U.S. businesses must create joint ventures with Chinese companies and turn over valuable technology assets, a practice that Washington says stifles U.S. 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 U.S. government could seek remedies either through the World Trade Organization or outside of it.

Trump, who is on a working vacation at his New Jersey golf club, said Friday that he planned to be in Washington tomorrow “for a very important meeting” and “we’re going to have a pretty big press conference.” It was not immediately clear whether he was talking about trade.

The administration official who confirmed that Trump would sign the order contended it was unrelated to the showdown with North Korea.

Trump, in the past, has tied trade policy to national security. In April, he said he wouldn’t label China a currency manipulator, in return for help in dealing with North Korea. This past week, Trump said he could soften his views on trade if China stepped up its assistance, leading to speculation that the investigation could be a negotiating tactic.

The forced sharing of intellectual property with Chinese firms has been a long-standing concern of the U.S. business community.

A 2013 report by a commission co-chaired by Jon Huntsman, ambassador to China under President Barack Obama and Trump’s nominee to be Russian envoy, pegged the losses from U.S. intellectual property theft at hundreds of billions of dollars annually, costing the U.S. economy millions of jobs.

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

At the end of March, Trump asked the Commerce Department to prepare a report on the causes of the trade deficit, country by country and product by product, in 90 days. The report has yet to be released.

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