Washington (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Monday authorized an inquiry into China 's alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but one that is unlikely to prompt near-term change.

Trump broke from his 17-day vacation in New Jersey to sign the memo in the White House at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The investigation is likely to cast a shadow over relations with China , the largest US trading partner, just as Trump is asking Beijing to step up pressure against Pyongyang.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China 's trade policies on intellectual property , which the White House and US industry lobby groups say are harming U.S. businesses and jobs.

Trump called the inquiry "a very big move."

Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be as high as $600 billion.