China will take action to defend its interests if the United States damages trade ties after President Donald Trump authorised an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property.
Trump’s move, the first direct trade measure by his administration against China, comes at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, though it is unlikely to prompt near-term change in commercial ties.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China’s policies on intellectual property, which the White House and US industry groups say are harming US businesses and jobs.
The US should respect objective facts, act prudently, abide by its World Trade Organization pledges, and not destroy principles of multilateralism, an unidentified spokesman of China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Tuesday.
“If the US side ignores the facts, and disrespects multilateral trade principles in taking actions that harms both sides trade interests, China will absolutely not sit by and watch, will inevitably adopt all appropriate measures, and resolutely safeguard China’s lawful rights.”
The ministry said the US should “treasure” the cooperation and favourable state of China-US trade relations, and warned that any US action to damage ties would “harm both sides trade relations and companies”.
China was continuously strengthening its administrative and judicial protections for intellectual property, the ministry added.
China’s policy of forcing foreign companies to turn over technology to Chinese joint venture partners and failure to crack down on intellectual property theft have been longstanding problems for several US administrations.
Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be worth as much as $US600 billion ($A764 billion).
Experts on China trade policy say the long lead time could allow Beijing to discuss some of the issues raised by Washington without being seen to cave to pressure under the threat of reprisals.
China repeatedly rebuffed attempts by previous US administrations to take action on its IP practices, and has insisted it rigorously protects intellectual property.
State news agency Xinhua said the US investigation is a unilateralist “baring of fangs” that will hurt both sides.