Ross Presses China to Level Playing Field for U.S. Businesses
By Natasha Khan
HONG KONG--U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he pressed China during his visit to Beijing this week to level a "lopsided" playing field for American companies there.
Mr. Ross was in Beijing to pave the way for a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, expected in November, when Mr. Ross will also lead a trade delegation to China. He told a media briefing in Hong Kong on Wednesday that he is optimistic about talks between the leaders of the world's two biggest economies, though neither side had signaled any concessions on the thorny issues dividing them.
Topping the U.S. agenda, Mr. Ross said, is market access for American companies. The U.S. will push China to lower protectionist barriers and improve protection of intellectual property, he said, especially as China is gunning to become a more powerful technology player.
"We do need major change, and I hope that we made it clear because the relationship is too lopsided at the moment," Mr. Ross said.
In Beijing meetings with senior officials, including Premier Li Keqiang, Mr. Ross stressed the need to rebalance bilateral trade, protect intellectual property, lower tariffs and guarantee free and reciprocal investment, according to a Commerce Department statement, which said the U.S. would act to defend its workers and businesses if cooperative efforts don't bear fruit.
Beijing's push for self-sufficiency in high-technology sectors by 2025 is understandable, Mr. Ross said, noting that China is the world's largest importer of semiconductors.
"If the way they get there is through fair and open playing fields, we are fine with that," he said. "We would not be comfortable if it was achieved through disrespect for intellectual-property rights, through forced localization and forced tech transfer."
Tensions between the two economic powers were highlighted earlier this month when Mr. Trump rejected a Beijing-backed fund's attempt to acquire a U.S. semiconductor company, saying that the $1.3 billion transaction could have risked U.S. national security.