President Trump on Monday will direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine if China is harming American companies by forcing, or coercing, them to turn over their intellectual property.
Senior administration officials said Saturday Trump will sign an executive memorandum for Lighthizer to determine if an investigation is needed into China's laws, policies, and business practices regarding intellectual property theft. If an investigation is needed, that would launch a process that could take about a year, officials said.
Three senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on the conditions their names would not be used, announced the decision in a call Saturday morning.
One official said China requires companies to turn over their intellectual property and other information on their business in order to work in the country. That costs American companies billions of dollars per year, the official said.
"President Trump is committed to protecting American technology and protecting our intellectual property," the official said.
A second senior administration official said China's practices amount to "forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft."
A third senior administration official said, if Lighthizer determines an investigation is needed, it would kick off an investigation that could last approximately a year.
Lighthizer and his investigators would need to consult with appropriate advisory committees and the Chinese government. That would give the Chinese an opportunity to comment on the investigation, and all interested parties would be able to defend themselves, the official said.
"This has been a longstanding problem, and I think that's been recorded on Capitol Hill and in the business community," the third official said.
The official added, "We expect this to have broad support on Capitol Hill. Many in the business community who are put in this situation are going to be supportive of this, and we hope that this problem will be solved by this action."
The announcement comes at a time when Trump is trying to get the Chinese government to put more pressure on North Korea to halt the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear weapons program.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone on Friday night, but a spokeswoman said the call only pertained to North Korea, and Trump didn't raise the intellectual property issues with Xi.
The first senior administration official said China's goal has been to get the intellectual property of American companies in order to make their own products. Putting an end to this, or at least attempting to, with this investigation would not heighten tensions between the two nations, the official said.
"I don't think we're heading toward a period of greater conflict," the official said. "This is simply business."