IN the Information Age, ideas are property as surely as land or machinery is. And ''intellectual property'' is something the United States brings to the market in abundance.
Hence the importance to the US of ensuring that China address the copyright piracy that costs the American software and entertainment industry millions of dollars every year. Popular movies such as ''The Lion King'' and ''Jurassic Park'' have been available in bootlegged laser discs in China before they have been released on video in the US. Computer software packages that would cost several thousand dollars in the United States can be bought for the equivalent of $100.
Negotiations on this issue between the US and China in Beijing broke down over the weekend, but US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and his team left a door open to the Chinese by inviting them to resume negotiations in Washington.
If no agreement is reached by this Saturday, however, Mr. Kantor will slap 100 percent tariffs onto a list of up to $2.8 billion worth of Chinese goods sold in the US under ''Super 301'' sanctions.
Beijing had been making hopeful noises about the negotiations, and agreement was evidently in sight on films and musical recordings, even though computer software was proving a tougher nut to crack.
Now Beijing is blaming the US for what looks to be a coming trade war, and is ready to fight back by denying American Big Three carmakers access to Chinese markets.
This is an unsettled time for China, with leader Deng Xiao-Ping apparently ill. Meanwhile, the human rights abuses that make many question whether the US should even be trading with China continue evidently unchecked.
The International Committee of the Red Cross was told that China could not allow unsupervised visits with any of its 1.3 million prisoners, or outside scrutiny of 2,679 jailed ''counterrevolutionaries.'' An underlying theme in both the trade dispute and the human rights controversy is the rule of law, law based on trust and fundamental principles.
Developing countries around the world are having to learn this, and the lessons don't come easy. Let's hope for an early resolution of the trade dispute, and not give up on human rights, even if progress there comes more slowly.