Lei Jun, the chairman and CEO of Xiaomi, introduces the Mi8 smartphone, which critics claim is similar to the iPhone X. Photo: AFP
Lei Jun, the chairman and CEO of Xiaomi, introduces the Mi8 smartphone, which critics claim is similar to the iPhone X. Photo: AFP

Since the dawn of time, there has always been a battle raging about technology. Sometimes silent. Sometimes vocal. Today, it has become deafening.

Last week, the European Union joined the chorus line of the disgruntled when it launched legal proceedings against China at the World Trade Organization about “intellectual property” violations.

This was the second time Beijing has come under fire over the issue after the United States threatened to roll out tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports, mainly from the technology sector.

President Donald Trump’s administration has called for a halt to state subsidies for Beijing-backed high-tech industries and the “forced transfer of technology” as part of the deal of doing business in China under the joint venture program.

“Technological innovation … keeps our companies competitive in the global market and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across Europe,”  Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU Commissioner for Trade, said. “If the main players don’t stick to the rulebook, the whole system might collapse.”

In response, Beijing admitted it “regrets” the complaints to the WTO and stressed it attached “great importance” to the protection of intellectual property rights.

“The Chinese government has always adopted strong measures to protect the legitimate rights and interests of domestic and foreign intellectual property rights holders,” the Ministry of Commerce revealed in a statement, released on Sunday night.

Still, in the space of a week, Beijing is now embroiled in two disputes revolving around technology with the EU and the US at the WTO.

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The latest case in Geneva runs parallel to Washington’s action against forced technology transfer.

While the EU has loudly criticized Trump’s “America First” agenda and his protectionist policy, the 28-nation bloc has expressed support for the White House’s stand for stronger IP protection in China.

“We cannot let any country force our companies to surrender this hard-earned knowledge at its border,” Malmstrom said. “This is against international regulations that we have all agreed upon in the WTO.”

The issues center on the basic rights that EU companies should have under WTO rules, concerning the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Indeed, the bloc’s main grievance mirrors Washington’s stand.

The White House has stated it will take multiple steps to “protect domestic technology and intellectual property from certain discriminatory and burdensome trade practices by China.”

Now, the EU is marching to the same drumbeat with a low-key fanfare.

Read: The technological ARMs war over ‘Made in China 2025’

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