China Gives and China Taketh Away

BY Michael D. Mosettig  May 23, 2013 at 9:46 AM EDT


Screen grab of Chinese skyline.

In the small town writ large of Washington, eight city blocks can separate a wide gulf of hopes and fears about future relations between the world’s two major economic powers — the United States and China.

In a large conference room at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, jammed with business executives, think tankers and Asian journalists, a high powered group of Chinese and U.S. business leaders and former officials presented a report calling for deeper cooperation to nurture and expand “the most important (economic relationship) in the world” over the coming decade. The trading volume between the countries has grown to half a trillion dollars.

Two hours later, a small group of reporters clustered at the National Press Building for a presentation of a report of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property asserting China is responsible for up to 80 percent of the $300 billion theft of intellectual property from companies in the Untied States and other advanced economies.

The keynote speaker at the CSIS conference was China’s Ambassador to Washington Cui Tiankai. The ambassador already has established a reputation for directness, including a recent speech expressing the worry that the United States and China have yet to reach a sufficient level of strategic trust. And he used this occasion to remind the audience that China was not an emerging economy but “a re-emerging economy that was on the world stage many centuries ago.” But just back from a trip planning the Obama-Xi Jinping summit at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California, Cui struck a much sunnier tone.

He said the informal format of the meeting, minus the protocol and ceremonies of a state visit, would give the two presidents ample opportunity to “engage in-depth on the strategic aspects of our relationship.” He said the summit should be the first of many meetings at all levels to “to build a new type of relationship between our governments.”

Continuing the merry mood to the end, Ambassador Cui paraphrased an aphorism from Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who opened China’s economy to the world in the late 1970s: “Don’t worry, be open.”

At the Press Club, former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair presented the 89-page report of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property. It called on the U.S. government to elevate its attention to the problem, for instance putting it in the preserve of the president’s national security adviser, and for measures that would make it unprofitable for China, Russia, India and Venezuela to engage in cyber and other intellectual property theft.

“Intellectual property theft needs to have consequences,” Huntsman said. Among the commission recommendations, seizing and sequestering imports into the United States based on IP theft. Another would be establishing intellectual property protection as a key criterion for the U.S. inter-governmental agency that approves foreign investments in this country.

Blair said the United States should watch trends over the next year or two, “If they don’t change, it will be time to step up to higher measures.”

Huntsman did acknowledge that China has been a lure for U.S. business and a prime source of revenue for many companies since the 2008 recession when their American balance sheets went upside down. But he said more U.S. business leaders are now rallying around the intellectual property issue.

“There has been a distinct shift in the U.S. business community,” he said. “It is less willing to champion the connection with China than before.”

That may be, but 15 U.S. signers of the CSIS report included current and former chief executives of major American corporations.

Michael D. Mosettig, PBS NewsHour foreign affairs and defense editor emeritus, watches wonks push policy in Washington’s multitude of think tanks. From time to time, he writes dispatches on what those scholars and wannabe secretaries of state have in mind for Europe, Asia and Latin America.