Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether any Chinese laws, policies or practices discriminate against or harm American innovators and technology companies, the officials said.
If so, Lighthizer would have “broad powers” to seek remedial action.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, bluntly accused China of “stealing our intellectual property” — long a concern of Western companies seeking a share of the enormous Chinese market.
The new measure comes amid high tensions between Washington and Beijing. Trump has accused China of failing to rein in the nuclear ambitions of its ally North Korea, even as he makes ever sharper threats against Pyongyang.
The officials said that matter, and the trade issue, are not linked.
The process Lighthizer will initiate, under Article 302b of the US Commercial Code, could take as long as a year to yield its findings.
The latest step follows the opening by the Trump administration of several other investigations into Chinese commercial practices, notably in the steel sector.
On Tuesday, Washington announced preliminary sanctions against imports of Chinese aluminum foil.
The US officials said “Chinese commercial policy has a major goal, the acquisition and the absorption of the intellectual property of the United States and other countries around the world.”
“Most Americans are fully aware that China is stealing our intellectual property,” they added. “What they may not know is that China is also forcing and coercing American companies that operate in China to turn over their technologies.”
US officials will particularly examine the role of joint ventures, the mixed foreign-and-Chinese companies whose establishment is a sine qua non for any outside business wishing to sell its products in China.
“China also funds and facilitates the acquisition of US firms that possess advanced technologies,” the officials said.
US and European companies have long complained of the Chinese legislation that forces them to turn over their industrial secrets if they wish to do business in China.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)