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Nicholas Kristof and the China Trade War

You really have to wonder if there is a ban on columnists and reporters mentioning wanton violation of the copyrights and patents of U.S. companies as a potential weapon for China in its trade war with the United States. Incredibly, as aspects of the trade war get highlighted and debated, wholesale violations of copyrights and patents held by U.S. companies never gets mentioned.

The latest conspicuous ignorer is Nicholas Kristof. In a column that warns Trump of all the non-trade measures China could pursue, he never once mentions patents and copyrights.

If this sounds obscure, let me be as specific as possible. Suppose China announces that it is working with a large domestic computer manufacturer to make tens or even hundreds of millions of computers, using Windows and other Microsoft software, which will be sold not only in China but exported to any country interested in getting low cost computers. Microsoft will not get a dime in royalty payments.

It also announces that all the latest Hollywood movies will be available on websites hosted in China for instant downloads at zero cost. Like Bill Gates, the boys and girls in Hollywood get zero. China also announces plans to get in the generic drug business in a huge way, mass producing versions of Pfizer, Merck, and other big U.S. drug companies drugs without regard to patents and related intellectual property claims. As with computers, these generic drugs will be sold not in only in China, but to any country in the world that would prefer low cost drugs.

Perhaps this form of retaliation has never occurred to Mr. Kristof and other folks who write on trade in U.S. news outlets, but I can guarantee the leadership in China is not so stupid. I’m sure they recognize this step would be the equivalent of going nuclear, but if they feel the need to take stronger measures in response to Trump, it is inconceivable that this one is not on the list.

And, as a sidebar, it would be a great thing for both China and the world. And at the end of the day, it would also be a great thing for the United States.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

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Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

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