China promises more anti-piracy cooperation ahead of Hu's United States visit

China promised Monday to tighten a crackdown on product piracy a key source of tension with Washington and improve enforcement cooperation with foreign governments ahead of President Hu Jintao's trip to the United States .

The government shut down 17 production lines making pirated DVDs and CDs last year and six this year, said Yan Xiaohong, deputy commissioner of the National Copyright Administration of China.

"We are very tough in our measures," Yan said at a news conference.

China is widely regarded as the world's top source of illegal copies of music, movies, software, designer clothes, medicines and other products. Such fake products are still widely available despite repeated government crackdowns.

U.S. officials contend unauthorized goods cost legitimate producers worldwide billions of dollars a year in lost potential sales.

They have been pressuring Beijing for stiffer penalties and to shut down factories and stores linked to counterfeits.

Hu is due to visit the White House on April 24 and Beijing has reportedly been preparing initiatives to ease trade tensions ahead of a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Beijing wants to "strengthen cooperation with international authorities," said Zheng Shaodong, a Public Security Ministry official who appeared at the news conference with Yan.

"We hope to strike hard against international intellectual property rights infringements to maintain legal rights and international and economic and trade orders," Zheng said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez was due to arrive in Beijing late Monday for trade talks that he said would include the status of China 's anti-piracy enforcement.

Yan said that in a recent investigation of disc manufacturers Chinese authorities pulled the licenses of six companies and halted production at eight more, including one company in Beijing and another in the southern province of Guangdong .

Other punitive measures against counterfeiters include fines and warnings, he said.

Authorities are offering rewards of up to 300,000 yuan (US$36,000; 30,000 euros) for tips on illegal production lines, Yan said.

Yan said authorities were taking "effective measures" to promote use of legitimate software by Chinese companies. Industry estimates say 90 percent of software used in China is pirated.

Yan said personal computer makers have been ordered to install only licensed software, and big companies are required to use only legal products.

"The situation has greatly improved," he said, reports the AP.

D.M.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team