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President Donald Trump on Monday signed a memorandum that could lead to a trade investigation of alleged Chinese theft of intellectual property.
The measure directs U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to look into options to protect U.S. intellectual property. It does not take any specific action against China at this point.
"We will safeguard the copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets and other intellectual property that is so vital to our security and to our prosperity," Trump said.
He added, "This is just the beginning."
The move comes as Trump aims to leverage China — North Korea's only major ally — to apply more economic pressure on Pyongyang to deter its nuclear and missile programs. However, an administration official told The Associated Press the move is unrelated to the isolated regime.
The Trump administration wants to look into practices forcing American companies to share intellectual property in order to access the Chinese market. Washington says the tactic can hurt economic growth.
The U.S. could potentially take action independently or with the World Trade Organization.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report