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China warns Trump of trade war if he orders tech theft probe

BEIJING -- A Chinese state newspaper warned Monday that President Trump "could trigger a trade war" if he goes ahead with plans to launch an investigation of whether China is stealing U.S. technology.

In a commentary by a researcher at a Commerce Ministry think tank, the China Daily said Mr. Trump's possible decision to launch an investigation, which an official says he will announce Monday, could "intensify tensions," especially over intellectual property, and "poison the overall China-US relationship." 

The official told reporters Saturday the president would order his trade office to look into whether to launch an investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 of possible Chinese theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property.

Mr. Trump is expected to sign an executive order Monday asking his trade office to consider the probe. In the midst of a 17-day vacation, he plans to leave his New Jersey golf club and return to Washington to sign the order.

There is no deadline for deciding if any investigation is necessary. Such an investigation easily could last a year. 

It would come despite the president seeking China's help in the ongoing showdown with North Korea.

China's Foreign Ministry said Monday the issues of U.S. trade and North Korea aren't connected and there's no future in a trade war between China and the United States, the Reuters news agency reports. Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comment at a regular press briefing.

A decision to use the Trade Act to rebalance trade with China "could trigger a trade war," the state newspaper commentary said under the name of researcher Mei Xinyu of the ministry's International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institute.

"And the inquiry the U.S. administration has ordered into China's trade policies, if carried out, could intensify tensions, especially on intellectual property rights."

The commentary gave no indication of how Beijing might respond but Chinese law gives regulators broad discretion over what foreign companies can do in China.

If an investigation begins, Washington could seek remedies either through the World Trade Organization or outside of it.

Previous U.S. actions directed at China under the 1974 law had little effect, said the China Daily. It noted China has grown to become the biggest exporter and has the world's largest foreign exchange reserves.

"The use of Section 301 by the U.S. will not have much impact on China's progress toward stronger economic development and a better future," said the newspaper.

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