WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Monday will start a process that could lead to action against China, which has been accused of stealing American businesses' intellectual property, even as he seeks Beijing's help against nuclear threats from North Korea.
Several administration officials outlined the highly preliminary trade action to reporters Saturday, suggesting -- contrary to Trump's own statements -- that trade policy toward China is divorced from any national security concern, including North Korea.
"Trade is trade; national security is national security," said one official, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with administration practice.
As recently as Thursday, the president volunteered a connection between the two, and not for the first time, in remarks to reporters about his weeklong nuclear standoff with North Korea. Trump suggested that if China helped rein in North Korea, which relies on Beijing's economic and security aid, he could ease his attacks on Chinese trade practices, which were a mainstay of his election campaign.
"We lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year on trade with China. They know how I feel. It's not going to continue like that," Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. "But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade -- a lot differently toward trade."
The officials would not confirm reports that the trade action Trump plans to initiate Monday had been delayed more than a week, until the administration secured China's support to win a unanimous vote Aug. 5 in the U.N. Security Council for imposing new sanctions on North Korea.
The president's trade action will be a long way from any punitive move against China, despite his and his advisers' open talk of Chinese "theft" and "stealing" of U.S. companies' intellectual property, which broadly includes technological innovations, film and other artistic products, industrial designs and military secrets.
He simply will initiate an investigation of intellectual property theft, joining a long line of inquiries from past administrations.
Trump advisers said the president on Monday plans to sign an executive memorandum, which is a step below an executive order, directing trade officials to investigate China's "acts, policies or practices" that violate international protections for American intellectual property, innovations and technology.
In related matters, Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged restraint in a phone call with Trump on Saturday, warning that "concerned parties" should avoid "remarks and actions" that could escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.