While the huffing, puffing and economic threats between the United States and China have diminished with Monday's renewal of an agreement preventing the theft of American intellectual properties, the predatory practice of China devouring U.S. copyrighted materials and regurgitating them for profit is not dead. But there is room for optimism.
Fortunately, the accord staves off a threatened $2 billion in U.S. sanctions and a full-scale trade war - at least for the time being. It also will likely help renewal of most-favored-nation trade treatment of China, which some members of Congress from both parties have promised to fight this year.Monday's agreement - essentially a renewal of a February 1995 pact - bans the unauthorized copy and sale of American-produced computer software, compact discs, movies and similar products.
For more than a year, the Chinese government has looked the other way while more than 30 factories produced and distributed black-market facsimiles of such materials at an estimated $2.3 billion cost to U.S. copyright owners. China has agreed to close at least 15 of those factories - capable of producing upwards of 50 million discs annually - and to "closely monitor" the activities of the remaining plants.
That's a step in the right direction, but it doesn't reach the promised land of no piracy and open access to Chinese markets. Pursuit of these goals should continue with firm but measured political and economic pressure from the United States and, hopefully, its partners in the World Trade Organization.
But the U.S. and its trade allies should expect a long, bumpy ride toward the attainment of these ideals. "What we have achieved is an important first step," said Jay Berman, chairman of the Recording Industry Association. "These measures and the commitment to endorse them will be the true test."
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how well China does enforce the pact, in light of its long history of shallow regard for rule of law and resistance to the importation of "foreign culture."
The United States has made clear that Chinese enforcement of the copyrights under internationally accepted standards remains a condition for entry into the World Trade Organization, which Beijing wants to achieve but has been unwilling to do so by establishing and abiding by rules of regulated trade.
China needs continual reminders that it must play by these and other reasonable laws if it wants the privileges and market access that membership in the WTO offers.