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DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The United States is not starting a trade war but trying to level the playing field of global commerce and fend off Chinese protectionism, including a “direct threat” in high-tech goods, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday.
Ross was speaking a day after Washington imposed steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, billed as a way to protect American jobs by President Donald Trump, who is widely expected to take further action on steel, aluminum and intellectual property.
“The Chinese have been for quite a little while been superb at free trade rhetoric and even more superb at highly protectionist behavior,” Ross said.
The “next area of challenge” would be China’s high tech ambitions under its 2025 plan, which aimed to make China a world leader with enormous market share “in most all of the new technologies that you can name and spell”, Ross said.
”That is a direct threat. And it is a direct threat that is being implemented by technology transfers, by disrespect for intellectual property rights, by commercial espionage, by all kinds of very bad things. So it isn’t just the overcapacity in the historic industries.”
He said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was working very hard on investigating on intellectual property, but his report was not expected for some time.
Ross was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, alongside business leaders and World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo, who said he expected China to dispute Trump’s trade challenges.
“I think China is going to respond to those complaints, saying that that is within the rules,” Azevedo said.
Earlier on Tuesday Jack Ma, the founder of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), said he was scared by the prospect of a trade war, which he described as a disaster.
”If you want to launch a trade war it’s easy, but it takes about 30 years to fix that pain,” Ma said.
Ross played down the idea that the United States was starting a trade war.