BEIJING (AP) -- China on Tuesday promised tougher enforcement against rampant illegal copying of movies, music and other goods that has added to tensions with Washington and hurt fledgling Chinese producers.
Beijing has promised repeatedly to stamp out product piracy, but trade groups say enforcement is inadequate and the problem is growing. The World Trade Organization upheld a U.S. complaint two years ago that Beijing was violating its trade commitments by failing to root out the problem.
Top police official Gao Feng defended China's progress, saying more than 4,000 people have been arrested since a half-year crackdown was launched in October. Speaking at a nationally televised news conference, Gao said that was three times the number detained for such offenses in the first half of 2009.
"This shows that police have been fighting against intellectual property crimes, but it also shows that such crimes are still rampant. Therefore, we need to strengthen the punishment for intellectual property infringement crimes," he said, without giving details.
When faced with such cases, "police departments must resolutely, severely, deeply and comprehensively crack down on them," said Gao, deputy chief of the Bureau of Economic Crime Investigation under the Ministry of Public Security.
The announcement comes ahead of a visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao next week. Piracy is a sensitive issue at a time when Washington and other governments want to boost exports and create jobs. Beijing also faces pressure to ease currency controls that critics say are swelling its trade surplus.
Trade groups say illegal Chinese copying of music, designer clothes and other goods costs legitimate producers billions of dollars a year in lost sales. American officials say phony Chinese-made heart and anti-cancer drugs have been found as far away as Africa.
Gao said the crackdown includes keeping better tabs on counterfeit goods, including trying to track items stored in warehouses and not on the market yet. There have also been problems with confiscated fake goods finding their way back onto markets.
Beijing has launched repeated crackdowns and boosted penalties in the past, but foreign governments and trade groups say its enforcement has not been strict enough.
In its WTO complaint, Washington complained about prosecution thresholds in Chinese law that allow violators to escape punishment if they make less than 500 copies of an item. It accused Beijing of violating trade rules by turning a blind eye to the piracy of CDs and DVDs that haven't been passed by state censors.
The WTO ruled in Washington's favor in January 2009, taking the U.S. government a step closer to being allowed to claim compensation from China for product piracy and possibly impose trade sanctions.
Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.