There’s been no end to the complaints on the left (and portions of the right as well) about President Trump’s use of tariffs to attempt to craft better trade deals for the United States. The results have been a mixed bag thus far, with some efforts delivering results (see: Mexico and Canada) and others seeming to fall short (the auto industry is a good example there). But some of the greatest consternation on display around punditry panels has been caused by the President’s aggressive stance toward China, arguably our largest trading partner. Trump’s complaints about their habitual theft of technology from the west seem to have sunk in over in Beijing because they are currently working on a law to supposedly curtail this type of abuse and end the tariff battle. (Associated Press)
In an unusual step, China’s ceremonial legislature is due to endorse a law meant to help end a bruising tariff war with Washington by discouraging officials from pressuring foreign companies to hand over technology.
The battle with China’s biggest trading partner is overshadowing the National People’s Congress, the country’s highest-profile event of the year. It brings 3,000-plus delegates to the ornate Great Hall of the People in Beijing for two weeks of speeches, meetings with senior leaders and political ritual to endorse the ruling Communist Party’s economic and social welfare plans.
A gathering of noncommunist groups held at the same time brightens Beijing’s drab winter, drawing tech billionaires, movie stars and ethnic minorities in distinctive traditional dress.
On the surface, at least, this looks like good news for Donald Trump. He hit China with a quarter of a trillion dollars in tariffs last July and our two nations have been wrangling over it ever since. This new law is being pushed by none other than President Xi Jinping himself, so it looks as if it should pass with ease, giving Trump another victory he can tout during his speeches.
But before we get too carried away with popping champagne corks, we need to keep in mind China’s history when it comes to “importing” western technology. Based on the description provided by the Associated Press, this new law isn’t exactly worded in a way that would be locking up any private or government entities found to be reverse engineering or simply stealing western technology and producing it themselves in defiance of patent rights. The Chinese are still denying that they steal technology or pressure companies to hand it over. And yet this law is designed to “discourage officials from pressuring foreign companies to hand over technology.”
“Discourage?” Does that mean they’ll be getting a strongly worded letter the next time they do it? The American Chamber of Commerce in China is quoted as describing the law as a positive “step forward” but they’re worried about how it would be enforced. The EU Chamber of Commerce similarly expressed concerns, calling the law vague and saying that forbidding pressure though “administrative methods” still leaves the Chinese with all sorts of other types of pressure they could apply.
It’s an accomplishment to see China even talking about cutting back on technology theft, so Trump has at least gotten the ball rolling. Whether or not the Chinese actually live up to any commitments in this area will remain to be seen.