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The politics behind Trump’s probe into China’s intellectual property laws

A copy of the local Chinese magazine Global People with a cover story that translates to
A copy of the local Chinese magazine Global People with a cover story that translates to "Why did Trump win" is seen with a front cover portrait of US president-elect Donald Trump at a news stand in Shanghai.

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President Trump ordered his top trade official, Robert Lighthizer, last week to look into a possible investigation to whether China had stolen U.S. intellectual property.

As reported by the Washington Post, the inquiry would give Trump authority to retaliate if China is found to have violated these laws. The investigation could take up to a year to complete. Senior White House officials also told reporters it was too soon to say what kind of consequences the Administration would have planned, should it find China guilty of theft.

But the move is seen to some as the first step in a much larger battle with China. The Chinese government saw this as a signal of a possible trade war with Trump. And as Trump’s tensions mount with North Korea over nuclear weapons, the U.S. has been urging China to put pressure on its neighbor.

So how are China’s historically wonky intellectual property laws affecting U.S. trade? And what is the political impact of Trump’s investigation?


Uri Friedman, staff writer at The Atlantic covering global affairs; he was also former deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy, a global policy news magazine; he tweets @UriLF

Brian Peck, director of the Center for Transnational Law and Business and adjunct assistant professor of law at the USC Gould School of Law