US President Donald Trump speaks before signing an order to investigate China’s practices and actions related to intellectual property, at the White House, on August 14, 2017. (AFP photo)
US President Donald Trump has ordered an investigation into China's alleged theft of intellectual property, although the measure is unlikely to prompt near-term change.
Trump signed an order on Monday that authorizes the trade inquiry, the first direct trade measure by the White House against China.
Trump called the inquiry "a very big move" and said "Washington will turn a blind eye no longer" to Beijing's "theft" of US industrial secrets.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into China's trade policies on intellectual property, which could lead to sanctions or other trade restrictions against Beijing.
The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property has estimated that theft of industrial secrets by China could be as high as $600 billion.
The US has a long list of grievances about China on trade, including accusations of currency manipulation, theft of US intellectual property and steel dumping.
Although Trump repeatedly condemned China's trade practices during last year’s presidential election race, his administration has not taken any significant actions yet.
Trump has declined to name China a currency manipulator and delayed broader national security probes into imports of foreign steel and aluminum that could indirectly affect China.
American and European governments and business groups have complained about Chinese laws that require foreign companies to share advanced technology in exchange for access to the country’s vast market.
On Tuesday, China warned that it "will not sit idle" if the United States takes actions that impair trade ties.
Any US trade protectionism "will definitely harm bilateral trade relations," China commerce ministry said in a statement.
Beijing would "definitely adopt all appropriate measures to vigorously defend the lawful rights and interest of China," the statement added.

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