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US trade authorities are investigating whether there is a case for taking action over China's infringements of intellectual property, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.
Mr Ross called Beijing's 2025 technology strategy a "direct threat".
Action on intellectual property would open a new front in global trade battles involving the United States.
Washington on Tuesday slapped steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels in moves billed as a way to protect American jobs by President Donald Trump. They sparked condemnations from China and South Korea.
Ross dismissed concerns of a "gigantic" trade war, saying Washington simply wanted a level playing field and was still open to trade talks with the European Union.
His remarks were preceded by comments from another senior US official, Steven Mnuchin, who welcomed a weaker dollar. The remarks from the Treasury Secretary sent the greenback reeling and underlined concerns that US President Donald Trump is stepping up his attack on China and other big trading partners as part of his America First agenda.
Mnuchin's remark, seen by markets as a departure from traditional US currency policy, was also made at the World Economic Forum.