CHINA is now in a race against time to prove it can rein in rampant piracy of American compact discs, video disks, computer programs, and books.
Last Thursday, the Clinton administration targeted China for possible trade sanctions and alleged that Beijing had failed to protect United States patents and copyrights. The US has launched an investigation which, in three to six months, could result in sweeping tariff increases on a variety of Chinese goods if the dispute is not resolved.
American businesses estimate that copyright piracy in China costs them $800 million in lost sales each year, especially in fast-growing southern China where many fakes are made for export.
Although China initially branded Washington's action ``irrational'' and threatened unspecified retaliation, Chinese and Western analysts here predict that China will step up actions against profiteers from illegal use of trademarks and copyrights.
In the wake of the US action, Chinese officials are calling for tougher punishments to ward off a trade war with the US. China has increased the maximum jail term for copyright infringement from five to seven years, and some members of China's nominal legislature have called for the imposition of higher fines. Earlier, police engaged in a series of high-profile raids against producers of pirated CDs, computer software, candy products, and soft drinks.
``Fines paid by the infringers should be given to the authors or copyright owners as compensation,'' the official New China News Agency reported.
The government in Beijing has recently established the Audio-Visual Industry Association of China to give advice on intellectual property protection.
``The Chinese know they have difficulties enforcing their own laws on behalf of foreign companies and even their own businessmen,'' a Western diplomat says.