China official rebukes Bannon: 'No victor in a trade war'

"This is a big step and only a beginning", Trump said, signing the executive order.

On Monday, Trump instructed US trade officials to look into whether to launch a formal investigation into whether Beijing improperly requires foreign companies to hand over technology as a condition of market access.

China's government on Thursday warned "there is no victor in a trade war" after an aide to President Donald Trump called in published comments for a tougher stance toward Beijing. According to USTR, the investigation will consider whether the Chinese government is conducting or supporting unauthorized intrusions into USA commercial computer networks or cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or confidential business information, and whether this conduct harms U.S. companies or provides competitive advantages to Chinese companies or commercial sectors.

In response, Lighthizer said he would make the inquiry "one of USTR's highest priorities".

The United States is China's second-largest trading partner after the European Union, but Washington and Beijing have seen their relations grow increasingly fraught since a promising summit between Trump and China's Xi Jinping in April.

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The investigation also comes amid heightened tensions between the USA and North Korea, and Trump's efforts to pressure China to take a harder line against Pyongyang's development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. China has been a member of the WTO since 2001.

Shortly before leaving the White House, former chief strategist Steve Bannon gave an exclusive interview to The American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine, in which he said the U.S. should be "maniacally focused" on an "economic war with China".

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on August 19 carried the USTR's investigation into infringements on intellectual property rights as the main news, worrying that the unilateral action by the administration could harm China-US trade relations. So if the two sides cooperate with each other, it will benefit both sides.

If the U.S. side fails to respect basic facts and multilateral trade rules, and takes measures that harm bilateral economic and trade relations, "China will definitely not sit by, but take all appropriate measures to resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests", Beijing's Ministry of Commerce has warned.

"Economic relationships between China and the U.S. have become too strong and complicated to disintegrate".

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