US mulling over big fine on China for IP theft: Trump

US President Donald Trump (left) and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said that China had forced US companies to transfer their intellectual property to the country as a cost of doing business there.
US President Donald Trump (left) and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said that China had forced US companies to transfer their intellectual property to the country as a cost of doing business there.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump says the US is considering a big fine as part of a probe into China's alleged theft of intellectual property (IP), the clearest indication yet that his administration will take retaliatory trade action against China.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Mr Trump and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said that China had forced US companies to transfer their intellectual property to the country as a cost of doing business there.

The United States has started a trade investigation into the issue, and Mr Cohn said the US Trade Representative would be making recommendations about it soon. "We have a very big intellectual property potential fine going, which is going to come out soon," Mr Trump said in the interview.

While Mr Trump did not specify what he meant by a fine against China, the 1974 trade law that authorised an investigation into China's alleged theft of US intellectual property allows him to impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese goods or other trade sanctions until China changes its policies.

He said the damages could be high, without elaborating on how the numbers were reached or how the costs would be imposed. "We are talking about big damages. We are talking about numbers that you haven't even thought about," he said.

The President said he wanted the US to have a good relationship with China, but Beijing needed to treat America fairly.

Mr Trump said he would be announcing some kind of action against China over trade, and said he would discuss the issue during his State of the Union address to Congress on Jan 30.

Asked about the potential for a trade war depending on US action over steel, aluminium and solar panels, Mr Trump said he hoped a trade war would not ensue. "I don't think so, I hope not. But if there is, there is," he said.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said there were no laws in China to force foreign investors to transfer technology, but acknowledged that such things may happen as part of "market behaviour" between companies working with each other.

"There is absolutely no government meddling in these actions," Mr Lu said at a daily news briefing yesterday. "At the same time, I want to stress that China will resolutely protect its legitimate rights," he added, without elaborating.

Mr Trump said on Wednesday that China stopped meeting the criteria for currency manipulation after his election, and he said making that designation while trying to work with Beijing to rein in North Korea would be tricky.

"How do you say, 'Hey, by the way, help me with North Korea and I am going to call you a currency manipulator?' It really doesn't work," he said.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline 'US mulling over big fine on China for IP theft: Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe