On Monday, President Trump is returning briefly to Washington from his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, to sign an executive order launching a study on a potential investigation of China's trade practices relating to technology and intellectual property, White House aides said over the weekend. The order will direct his trade representative to ascertain if there's enough evidence that China is stealing valuable patents and other trade secrets from U.S. companies outright or coercing them into entering joint Chinese partnerships to launch a formal, unilateral investigation. There will be no deadline to conclude whether a probe is warranted, and the investigation would take a year or more.
"Such theft not only damages American companies, but can threaten our national security," a senior administration official told reporters on Saturday. Trump has linked U.S. trade measures against China with China's willingness to confront North Korea, but White House officials insist this order has nothing to do with the rising tensions with Pyongyang. "These are totally unrelated events," one official told The Wall Street Journal. "Trade is trade. National security is national security." One official suggested to WSJ that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not discuss trade on their North Korea–focused phone call on Friday, but two U.S. officials familiar with their conversation told The Associated Press that Trump mentioned the possible trade inquiry to Xi.