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US to look into probing China trade practices

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Democratic leader says Trump's announcement on 'well-documented IP thefts' gives China signal to continue stealing

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump today will order his top trade adviser to determine whether to investigate Chinese trade practices that force US firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, senior administration officials said.

The move, which could eventually lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods, comes at a time when Mr Trump has asked China to do more to crack down on North Korea's nuclear missile programme as he threatens possible military action against Pyongyang.

Mr Trump has said he would be more amenable to going easy on Beijing if it were more aggressive in reining in North Korea.

An administration official, however, insisted diplomacy over North Korea and the potential trade probe were "totally unrelated", saying the trade action was not a pressure tactic.

"These are two different things," the official said to reporters in a conference call.

Mr Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine if an investigation is warranted of "any of China's laws, policies, practices or actions that may be unreasonable or discriminatory, and that may be harming American intellectual property, innovation and technology", the official said.

"China's unfair trade practices and industrial policies, including forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft, harm the US economy and workers," a second official said.

"The action being taken on Monday is a reflection of the president's firm commitment to addressing this problem in a firm way."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took issue with that assessment.

President Trump's pattern continues: Tough talk on China, but weaker action than anyone could ever imagine.Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer

"President Trump's pattern continues: Tough talk on China, but weaker action than anyone could ever imagine," he said.

"To make an announcement that they're going to decide whether to have an investigation on China's well-documented theft of our intellectual property is another signal to China that it is okay to keep stealing."

Any investigation that may be launched could take as long as a year to conclude, a third official said. He said it would be premature to speculate on actions that could be taken against China, and added that the issue could be resolved through "negotiated agreement".

Mr Trump, who will interrupt a 17-day working holiday to make a 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 co-operation on North Korea.

In addition to the US, the European Union, Japan, Germany and Canada have all expressed concern about Chinese theft of intellectual property.

The technology sector has been especially hard-hit in intellectual property disputes. - REUTERS

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