If the investigation finds that China is harming US companies, the Trump administration could respond by imposing tariffs, negotiating an agreement with China or other measures, the officials said.
In a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two leaders reaffirmed their shared desire for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
"An important question going forward will be whether USA companies and trade associations who have highlighted the problem will actually come forward and assist our government in the investigation" - Michael Wessel, member of the U.S.
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.
The trade investigation is expected to be only one part of a multi-pronged push by the Trump administration to counter perceived Chinese trade abuses, which Trump frequently railed against as a candidate.
Trump's order will initiate a two-stage process for confronting China over a variety of "laws, policies, practices or actions" that require American companies to transfer valuable technology or other proprietary information to get permission to do business in China. Xi urged both sides not to do anything that would aggravate tensions. The move delays for as long as a year any decision on actions that could stem from a probe, such as US tariff increases or other punishing unilateral actions.
"This is a critical action, and long overdue", said Michael Wessel, a member of the U.S.
The decision will not only take action against alleged Chinese violations of US companies' intellectual property rights, but could also be perceived as an attempt by the USA government to crank up the pressure on Beijing to rein in North Korea.
Trump's threat to investigate China's intellectual property and trade practices is valid, but his administration may not be up to the delicate task of carrying out a new China probe without sparking a damaging trade war, USA business lobbyists said last week. They said that USA companies had long suffered because of Chinese intellectual-property violations, and that they expected Congress and the business community to support the measure.
American companies "should not be forced or coerced to turn over the fruits of their labor", a second administration official said.
"If Americans continue to have their best technology and intellectual property stolen, or forcibly transferred offshore, the United States will find it hard to maintain its current technology-leadership position and to remain one of the world's most innovative economies".
"That will not solve America's economic problems and probably in the long term will make it worse", Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a leading China expert, told Xinhua in a recent interview. Meanwhile, 100 days of trade talks with the Chinese carried out in past months resulted in a few trade gains but not the ambitious changes the administration had hoped for.
The United States, for example, has always complained that China dumps steel on its market, and if the Trump administration were to impose heavy tariffs on Chinese steel products, the retaliatory measure could draw other countries in, including Taiwan, which counts steel as one of its major exports, Sun said. -China trading relationship. But analysts have cautioned that Trump faces a huge challenge in his desire to significantly reduce the USA trade deficit with China, which previous year stood at more than $300 billion.
In general, trade disputes among WTO members should be resolved through the WTO mechanism, not based on a member's domestic law, said Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science and worldwide relations at Bucknell University in the USA state of Pennsylvania.
There are "a wide variety of potential responses".