China said it has "always worked hard" to protect copyrights, defending itself against a US decision to put it on a blacklist of countries allegedly guilty of "rampant" copyright abuses.
"The Chinese government has all along attached importance to the protection of intellectual property rights," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
"I think we｀ve always worked hard to protect intellectual property rights (IPR). This position has been consistent."
The US Trade Representative｀s office, unveiling an annual report on protection of IPR Friday, said China was being put on a "Priority Watch List" of 14 countries and warned that WTO action could follow.
The "Special 301" report "concludes that infringement levels remain unacceptably high throughout China, in spite of Beijing｀s efforts to reduce them," the USTR said in a statement.
Officials said the reference to legal action at the World Trade Organisation was a sign of US exasperation over the issue, following the conclusion of a special USTR review of Chinese IPR protection.
"The language is pretty strong compared to what｀s been said in the past. This is the first time that the WTO link is being made," one official said on condition of anonymity.
Acting US Trade Representative Peter Allgeier acknowledged that China｀s leadership was trying to curb piracy of US goods.
But he added: "China must take action to address rampant piracy and counterfeiting, including increasing the number of criminal IPR cases and further opening its market to legitimate copyright and other goods.
"We will work closely with US industry and other stakeholders, with an eye toward utilizing WTO procedures to bring China into compliance with its trade obligations," he said.
The USTR uses a three-step warning list to designate countries according to the degree of IPR abuses.
The Priority Watch List is the second most serious of the three, below "Priority Foreign Countries," which China was listed on in 1994 but then removed after striking a bilateral agreement with the US government.
By restoring China to the list and issuing its warnings about WTO action, the United States is upping the stakes with Beijing.