Trump has suggested he would go easier on China if it were more forceful in getting North Korea to rein in its nuclear weapons program.
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.
"I don't think we're heading toward a period of greater conflict (with China)", said one White House official. If USTR moves forward, the investigation could take as long as a year.
In a report to lawmakers released in July, the USTR accused China of engaging in "widespread infringing activity, including trade secret theft, rampant online piracy and counterfeiting, and high levels of physical pirated and counterfeit exports to markets around the globe". China is the world's principal IP infringer, the commission said.
The Trump administration is insisting the move isn't tied to heightening tensions with North Korea, but it is inherently connected to complications in the region.
"Americans are among the most innovative", said one official.
He is tweeting: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely".
In a call Friday, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that North Korea must stop its "provocative and escalatory behavior" and reaffirmed their commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, the White House said.
The administration official who confirmed that Trump would sign the order contended it was unrelated to the showdown with North Korea.
When asked about the delay in the call on Saturday, the officials did not address the question directly.
The objective of this memorandum is to ensure American companies and workers are not subject to harmful policies by China in relation to intellectual property and to ensure that America continues to maintain its leadership in technology, an official stated.
It further complicates the already taut U.S.
An official continued on to say that there is more than $600 billion of intellectual property theft against USA companies with China responsible for a huge portion of that.
"This is simply not fair", said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The results of three separate investigations into trade deficits and the national security threats posed by imports of steel and aluminum, initially expected by the end of June, have yet to appear. The Chinese trade announcement is expected to be part of his agenda. That statement didn't mention the executive action, but said the leaders discussed North Korea policy and Trump's visit to China later this year.
Used frequently during the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the law allows the United States president to impose tariffs and other measures to force open export markets.
The investigation is being ordered under US Trade Act of 1974, which officials said permits the USTR to investigate acts, policies or practices of a foreign country to determine whether they are indeed unreasonable or discriminatory that burden or otherwise restrict US commerce.
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 United States intellectual property theft at hundreds of billions of dollars annually that cost the USA economy millions of jobs. That initiative sets forth a long-term plan for China's dominance in a wide variety of high-tech industries, including electric vehicles, advanced medial products and robotics.
The administration has been eyeing other moves to rebalance the U.S.