The Trump administration has announced plans to pressure China over alleged intellectual property theft, adding the threat of trade retaliation to an ongoing campaign seeking greater cooperation from Beijing in the North Korean nuclear crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Aides said President Donald Trump will sign a directive Monday ordering his trade representative to start a formal probe into whether Chinese government agencies and companies were unfairly acquiring valuable patents and licenses from U.S. firms, either through outright theft, or by pressuring Americans to turn over their inventions as the price of entry into China’s market.
“Such theft not only damages American companies, but can threaten our national security,” a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters.
Officials at the briefing stressed that while they were casting a spotlight on what they consider a major irritant in bilateral commercial relations, they weren’t rushing into action. They said Monday’s directive would launch a study into whether a formal trade investigation was warranted, and that the probe would take a year or more. They declined to discuss what sorts of penalties the US might impose against China, saying that question was “premature.”
The administration made the announcement a day after Trump held a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss escalating tensions over North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Trump has repeatedly said he would cut Beijing slack over trade issues if he felt the Chinese were being helpful in reining in Pyongyang.
The White House aides said the new trade probe wasn’t tied to the administration’s North Korea strategy, despite the president’s earlier linkage of the subjects. “These are totally unrelated events,” one official said. “Trade is trade. National security is national security.”
The new probe does signal a bit of a hardening shift in the Trump administration’s China trade policy, as it is the first White House trade directive aimed directly at Beijing. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump regularly blasted the US’s US$347 billion trade deficit with China, and vowed to take swift, drastic retaliation if he were elected, from across-the-board tariffs to branding Beijing a “currency manipulator”.
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