But the high-profile announcement the administration is planning carries symbolic as well as practical ramifications, and serves to ratchet up trade pressure on Beijing amid a deepening foreign policy crisis. There is no deadline for deciding if any investigation is necessary.
Trump informed Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday night of the upcoming memorandum, a senior administration official told CNN Friday. They were not authorized to publicly discuss the private call, and spoke on condition of anonymity.
As a prime example of what the officials called China's "unfair trade practices", they objected that the country requires American businesses that want to operate there to form joint ventures with state-run companies and share intellectual property with them.
American companies "should not be forced or coerced to turn over the fruits of their labor", a second administration official said. "But if China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade - a lot differently toward trade".
While Beijing has promised to open more industries to foreign companies, it also has issued new rules on electric vehicle manufacturing, data security, internet censorship, and other fields.
"It's not going to continue like that", Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. It was not immediately clear whether he was talking about trade as the subject.
Trump fueled the impression that how hard he pressures Beijing on trade depends on its cooperation on the North Korea question.
"A decision to trigger Section 301 today is problematic because it would provide additional fuel to the already simmering argument that the Trump administration is undoing the American commitment to rules-based trade and decades of work to establish global cooperation", he said.
"The relationship could spiral out of control, particularly if the movement on the trade front is combined with growing tensions over how to respond to North Korea", said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They know how I feel", he told reporters on Thursday.
Mr Rudd said Mr Trump was unique to past USA presidents dating back to 1993 who have dealt with the North Korean regime because he sees a virtue in his own strategic unpredictability. Xi, in his phone conversation with Trump, urged calm. They reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, the White House said in a statement. So far, however, its expressed goals are not drastically different than what was agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that Mr. Trump has attacked. In April, he said he wouldn't label China a currency manipulator, in return for help in dealing with North Korea. He said it would be premature to speculate on actions that could eventually be taken against China, and added that the issue could be resolved through "negotiated agreement".
"It wasn't just the Obama administration, the Bush administration, the Clinton administration tended to do that as well", said Bown, adding that previous USA administrations have successfully used the WTO to get other countries to change their policies that were breaking the rules.
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.
Trump has requested similar inquiries on trade, but the reports haven't been delivered on deadline.
The results of three separate investigations into trade deficits and the national security threats posed by imports of steel and aluminum, initially expected by the end of June, have yet to appear. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had hoped to finish the review by June, but parts of it remain in the final stages of interagency review.