WASHINGTON ― Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump asked the Obama administration in 2011 to intervene on his behalf with the Chinese justice system. His complaint went to the heart of Trump’s business empire. A small-time Chinese coffee shop business had registered the word “Trump.”
“I would greatly appreciate someone speaking to the Chinese and Macau representatives to ask them how such a miscarriage of justice could have taken place,” Trump wrote, referring to a ruling that found that Trump could still trademark his name for hotels, but not for restaurants.
“The Trump name resonates throughout the entire world; whether it is from a world class building, my highly rated television show, my dozens of best-selling books, or any of the other products and services which bear my name,” Trump wrote to then-Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “According to their ignorant council of judges, it appears the only two places in the world I am not well known are China and Macao [sic].”
The letter offers a new window into how Trump’s private business dealings with China have helped to inform his views on trade and tariffs. It is also the latest example of Trump asking an official power, in this case the U.S. Commerce Department, to intervene on his behalf to help sway a judicial opinion.
In his missive, Trump called China a “deceitful culture” with a “faithless, corrupt and tainted” legal system. The Huffington Post obtained the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Trump’s letter, he wrote, was sparked by an appearance Locke made on television. “I recently saw you on CNBC and respectfully disagree with your statements regarding China and their improving intellectual property rights,” Trump wrote.
Locke, one of the nation’s first Chinese American cabinet secretaries, was addressing U.S. efforts to enforce copyright and intellectual property laws in Chinese markets.
“For many years, I have heard that the Court and political systems of China, and those of Macao, are totally corrupt,” Trump wrote. “I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to secure my own name and globally recognized brand from Chinese individuals who seek to trade off of my reputation. As an example, in Macao, the Courts denied me the exclusive rights to my own name.”
A month after receiving his complaint, the Obama administration responded, thanking Trump for his letter and agreeing that piracy and counterfeiting in China were still “unacceptably high.”
Commerce officials stressed that Trump’s concerns were still subject to due process and the courts, however. “With respect to your legal proceedings in Macau, legal and policy constraints limit our ability to take action regarding matters before foreign courts,” said the letter, which was auto-signed by Locke.
The department would raise Trump’s issue with Chinese authorities, the letter said. But it also suggested another avenue for Trump to resolve his dispute: the International Trade Administration, which helps U.S. companies deal with intellectual property issues in China and elsewhere. Locke said his employees would be glad to speak with Trump further on the matter.
A spokeswoman for the Commerce Department said she could find no further communications from Trump on the matter. Read the entire letter below.
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Five years after he asked for Obama’s help to fight Chinese courts, Trump has made fighting China on trade a central focus of his economic policy, and by extension, the platform of the Republican Party.
“We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country,” Trump said earlier this year, before calling for a 45 percent tariff on imports from China. The Republican presidential nominee also said the nation of more than a billion people is perpetrating “the greatest theft in the history of the world” and “laughing at our stupidity.”
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Under a Trump administration, Commerce Department employees might not exist. Senior advisers to Trump have publicly advocated for eliminating the Commerce Department, calling it a hub for “corporate welfare.” Trump adviser Stephen Moore recently said he was “working as hard” as he can to convince Trump to scrap the multibillion-dollar department.
The story of Trump’s business dealings in China is more complicated than he makes it sound on the campaign trail.
In 2007, after Trump’s Atlantic City ventures tanked, he looked into the prospect of opening casinos in the Chinese island territory of Macau, a notorious gambling destination. After registering three brands in Macau in 2007 ― “Donald Trump,” “Trump Tower” and “Trump International Hotel and Tower” ― Trump ran into trouble with a Chinese company that had registered the word “Trump” a year earlier for potential use at coffee shops and a restaurant.
Trump was furious. As he explained in his letter to Locke, in 2009 Trump sent a group of executives, including his son, Donald J. Trump Jr., to Macau, along with 300 pounds of printed publicity materials featuring Trump’s name and face. The goal of all that paper, Trump wrote, was to convince a Chinese judge that the word “Trump” was indeed an internationally recognized brand.
When the court didn’t immediately prohibit the other company from using the word Trump, the real estate mogul called it “a clear sign that their entire system is faithless, corrupt and tainted.”
“Who could expect anything different from a deceitful culture where they send underage children to the Olympics to compete, and when caught, claim they were completely unaware?” Trump wrote in his letter to Locke, apparently in reference to the elimination of an underage Chinese gymnast from competition 11 years earlier, in 2000.
“Their behavior should be a clear warning to the rest of the world to refrain from any trade practice or business relationship with them!” Trump continued.
It’s unclear what Trump meant when he warned that the rest of the world should refrain from doing business with China. At the time, many of his Trump-label luxury fashions were being manufactured in China, where labor standards were practically non-existent and wages were low.
Since then, Trump has diversified his manufacturing operations to include Vietnam and Bangladesh. As recently as this year, however, Trump was still selling $24 tie clips emblazoned with dollar signs that were made in China.