World

China 'will not sit idle' if US probe harms trade

Response comes after Trump orders investigation into its intellectual property practices

BEIJING: Trade tensions between the US and China heated up yesterday as Beijing warned that it "will not sit idle" if a US probe into its intellectual property practices leads to sanctions.

US President Donald Trump's decision to order the investigation comes on top of strains between the two over how to handle Beijing's ally North Korea.

Mr Trump signed a memorandum on Monday directing US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether Chinese policies hurt American investors or companies - with retaliatory measures a possible outcome.

"We will stand up to any country that unlawfully forces American companies to transfer their valuable technology as a condition of market access. We will combat the counterfeiting and piracy that destroys American jobs," Mr Trump said.

"Washington will turn a blind eye no longer," he added, vowing to safeguard copyrights, patents and other intellectual property that are "vital to our security and to our prosperity".

He said the US would no longer tolerate Beijing's "theft" of US industrial secrets.

Mr Lighthizer said: "We will engage in a thorough investigation and, if needed, take action to preserve the future of US industry."

China's Commerce Ministry issued a statement voicing "serious concern" and warning that any US trade protectionism "will definitely harm bilateral trade relations".

"If the US side takes actions that impair the mutual trade relations, disregarding the facts and disrespecting multilateral trade rules, China will not sit idle," the statement said.

The ministry said the country "is definitely going to adopt all appropriate measures to vigorously defend the lawful rights and interest of China".

The new intellectual property inquiry joins numerous investigations by Washington into Chinese trade practices, notably those concerning steel and aluminium and their national security consequences, which the Trump administration began earlier this year.

However, the start of a US probe will not immediately result in open confrontation.

Mr Lighthizer will first need to reach a preliminary finding of unfair practices by China before opening a formal investigation, which could take as much as a year, officials said.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry said the country has "always been paying high attention to intellectual property rights protection, continuously perfecting the legislation", and that the progress it has made on that front is "obvious to all".

Last week, Washington announced preliminary sanctions against Chinese imports of aluminium foil. But so far, the US has not imposed heavier trade measures on Chinese goods. - AFP

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