Probe into trade practices coming

President Donald Trump on Friday night informed China’s leader that he’s preparing to order an investigation into Chinese trade practices next week, a senior administration official told CNN.

Trump told President Xi Jinping that he plans to direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Monday to begin the probe into alleged Chinese violations of U.S. intellectual property rights, the official said.

The move could lay the groundwork for Trump to impose tariffs against Chinese imports, which would mark a significant escalation in his efforts to reshape the trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump’s call with Xi and his plans to open the broad trade investigation come against the backdrop of rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Trump planned to launch the trade investigation more than a week ago, but he delayed the move in favor of securing China’s support for expanded U.N. sanctions against North Korea, the senior administration official said.

Trump has being trying for months to get China to exert more pressure on North Korea, but has recently expressed frustration with the lack of progress.

The trade investigation could strain relations between the U.S. and China as the two countries wrestle with the unpredictable situation over North Korea. Pyongyang this week threatened to fire missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam during an exchange of bellicose rhetoric with Trump.

“The United States government can, and does, work with countries to address serious concerns such as North Korea while also pursuing measures to address economic concerns, such as the theft of U.S. intellectual property,” a U.S. National Security Council official said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how China would react to the move.

When reports of the potential trade investigation first emerged more than a week ago, China’s Commerce Ministry stressed the importance of U.S.-China trade ties and of resolving differences “through dialogue and consultation.”

“We would like to emphasize that the Chinese government has always attached importance to intellectual property protection,” a spokesman said. “The results are there for all to see.”

Trump, who has been residing at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for the past week, plans to return to Washington on Monday to officially announce the trade investigation.

The decision will not only take action against alleged Chinese violations of U.S. companies’…

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