WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday slammed China's trade practices as "predatory economics 101" and said statements by Beijing in recent weeks that it was moving to open its economy were "a joke."
Pompeo said China's theft of U.S. intellectual property "is at an unprecedented level of larceny" and he had raised the issue in talks last week with China's President Xi Jingping.
Pompeo's remarks to the Detroit Economic Club came as fears over a possible trade war between the world's two largest economies weighed on stock markets.
China has long denied U.S. charges that Chinese firms have stolen ideas and software or forced firms to turn over intellectual property as part of the price of doing business in China.
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he was pushing ahead with tariffs on $50 billion (£37.7 billion) of Chinese imports, prompting a quick response from Beijing, which said it would put duties on several American commodities.
China said it would retaliate immediately by suspending previous trade agreements and slapping duties on American exports, including crude oil. China has risen to the top of the list of importers of oil from the United States.
Pompeo said excess Chinese steel and aluminium production had flooded the market and suppressed global prices for the metals, making it hard for American companies to compete.
"This is predatory economics 101, and many other countries have recognised this," said Pompeo, "President Trump is now working to re-shift this balance."
"Chinese leaders over these past few weeks have been claiming openness and globalisation, but it's a joke. Let's be clear: It's the most predatory economic government that operates against the rest of the world today. This is a problem that is long overdue in being tackled."
To critics of the Trump administration's trade tariffs, Pompeo said: "Just ask yourself: Would China have allowed America to do to it what China has done to America?"
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)