STATE DEPARTMENT - Top American officials are warning that the ability to protect intellectual property is under a grave threat if a Chinese-backed candidate becomes the new director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a self-funding agency of the United Nations that handles patents, trademarks and industrial designs.
In early March, WIPO is scheduled to nominate a candidate to the position of director general.
"This is a big deal," Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, told VOA Wednesday.
"We're tracking that important [nomination]," Krach said. "Key to economic security is protecting United States assets, and one of those is intellectual property. And it's ironic that China has a candidate, where they probably are responsible for 90% of intellectual property theft, cyber hacking and all of that. So I think a lot of nations are really questioning that."
Weeks into the U.S. plan to host a special summit with the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), Krach said Washington is doubling down to advance the U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership, amid concerns that China is expanding its influence and driving a wedge between U.S. alliances in the Southeast Asian bloc.
Though U.S. President Donald Trump attended the annual ASEAN summit in 2017, he skipped the regular summits in 2018 and 2019, sending Vice President Mike Pence to attend in 2018, and White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien to attend in 2019.
While members of ASEAN have responded positively to the U.S. invitation for the March 14 meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, the event could be postponed if the coronavirus outbreak worsens.
The following are excerpts from the interview. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: In early March, the World Intellectual Property Organization is expected to nominate a candidate to the position of director general, are you tracking the election?
KRACH: We're tracking that important, important [nomination] because, you know, key to economic security is protecting United States assets and one of those is intellectual property. And it's ironic that China has a candidate, where they probably are responsible for 90% of intellectual property theft, cyber hacking and all of that. So I think a lot of nations are really questioning that. And we know there's a great Singaporean candidate. And so, this is a big deal.
VOA: What is high on the agenda in the coming U.S.-ASEAN special summit?
KRACH: I think it's really three things. The first one is to look at this economic model of the United States, of freedom and pro-growth policies, it's really a model to hold up to the rest of the world. And if you look at our economy, the results speak for themselves in terms of record-level unemployment, GDP growth, productivity, all of that. So it's to provide a model.
The second one is to leverage the innovation and resources of the private sector, and really bring that to bear, in terms of further economic growth.
And then the third one is to establish a level playing field with a set of trust principles to build out that economic growth in conjunction with our allies and our partners and our friends, and particularly in the ASEAN region, where it's so strategic.
And so many of these countries are: "Hey, you know, how can we, how can we improve our business climate, how can we increase the capabilities of our human capital? Give it ... share with us some of your best practice in terms of security, justice, regulations for particular sectors." So this is we're really there to really support these countries, help these countries, and really help their growth in terms of on the economic front, but also help economic security, and, you know, as President Trump said, economic security is national security.
VOA: You mentioned ASEAN members are U.S. allies. What is the Trump administration's approach to ASEAN as a regional bloc? Has the U.S. ignored it, allowing Southeast Asia to grow closer to China?
KRACH: I think President Trump knows how important the ASEAN [is], he's put a particular focus on it, and we've really doubled down.
And you know, I think it was exemplified in the Indo-Pacific forum that was in Bangkok, you know just at the end of last year. We brought over hundreds of U.S. executives and we had all the nations from the ASEAN region there. And, you know, because, hey, these countries are looking to that American model as a beacon of hope for not just prosperity, but also for freedom. And I think people understand there is no sustainable prosperity without liberty.
VOA: Could you talk about Trump administration's policy on WTO [the World Trade Organization] that some critics say has crippled WTO's ability to handle trade disputes? Do you think WTO should be replaced and why?
KRACH: I think a big, one of the big issues with the WTO is if you look at a country, it's the second biggest economy in the world, claiming the developing nation status and all the benefits that go around with that. When I was over in Korea, I really applauded the Korean leadership in terms of no longer claiming developing nation status, and I said you know that's a great role model for China.
So it I think it comes back to that question in terms of, you know, multilateral organizations, when they're being used to create an unlevel playing field. I think this is the big issue that President Trump has with that, as I think we all do once you dig into it.
VOA: What is the initiative about "Deal Teams?"
KRACH: "Yesterday we launched the DC Central Deal Team to support U.S. businesses around the world. And also, in terms of bringing foreign direct investment into the United States and actually it's part of our broader mission in terms of economic security, as well as building an economic growth network around the world, with our allies and so with the DC Central Deal Team. It's to take economic statecraft to the next level. And as well as centralize a lot of the support that we can provide our field. Deal teams out there in the embassies, as well as match them up with businesses as well as matching up with the 28 financing arms of the United States government.
VOA: Could you please highlight the Deal Teams' plan to expand U.S. exports and investments to Africa?
KRACH: Yes. So, this is, you know, an interagency integrated effort. So for example, we had leaders there at the launch from the Commerce Department, from Trade, from the Treasury, from the DFC [Development Finance Corporation], from Export-Import Bank, from U.S.A.I.D., from the Department of Transportation.
So first of all, it's that centralized approach to put behind, you know, the amazing American private sector, which is kind of the envy of the world. And you know what's interesting for me is in the last few months, I've had about 60 bilaterals with you know, 60 different nations, and you know the number one thing is like, "Hey, what can you do to help us bring more of us private sector to our country?" So this is really a great catalyst, a great facilitating tool to take that to the next level.