Photo: AFP

While the Trump administration’s posture on trade appears to be softening somewhat, tensions between the world’s two largest economies are still on the rise.

The latest confrontation from the Trump administration is another allegation of economic espionage, this time directed at a Chinese state-owned enterprise and a Taiwanese firm, both of which the US says stole secrets from chipmaker Micron.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement with comments published on the US Justice Department’s website.

“I am announcing that a grand jury in San Francisco has returned a multi-defendant indictment alleging economic espionage on the part of a state-owned Chinese company, a Taiwanese company, and three Taiwan individuals for an alleged scheme to steal trade secrets from Micron, an Idaho-based semiconductor company,” Sessions said.

“Micron is worth an estimated $100 billion and has a 20 to 25 percent share of the dynamic random access memory industry—a technology not possessed by the Chinese until very recently.  As this and other recent cases have shown, Chinese economic espionage against the United States has been increasing—and it has been increasing rapidly.  I am here to say that enough is enough,” he added.

The state-owned firm named in the indictment, Fujian Jianhua, is a Chinese semiconductor manufacturer that was already targeted by the US earlier this week when authorities slapped a ban on US exports to the company.

The development is a continuation of a dramatic pivot by the Trump administration towards a more aggressive posture in bilateral relations with China. The policy shift was articulated in a speech by Vice-President Mike Pence last month, and has been reiterated by officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview on Fox News this week.

“This is the first administration that has been prepared to push back against China, and we’re doing so on all fronts. So where the semiconductor piece fits in is – it’s part of a mosaic of our strategic effort to push back against this continued Chinese effort,” Pompeo said.

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