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China Furls Pirate Flag

NOW the question becomes, will China stick to its side of the bargain?

The trade deal struck this week between Beijing and Washington could become a milestone in the move toward a global economy with foundations in fairness and order. It concerned some of the hottest items on world markets -- ''intellectual property'' like computer software, music CDs, and films -- and the rights of their creators to sell and reproduce them.

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China has become the ''piracy'' capital of the world, with factories churning out copies of any audio, video, or digital product that might find a market. On top of that, American producers of films and other entertainment and information products were barred from entering the potentially huge Chinese market.

Hardball was called for, and the United States rightly used some pretty strong tactics to nudge China from its outlaw ways. As the deal, which commits China to shut down its pirate factories, clarify its regulations governing intellectual property rights, and open its doors to US producers, was finally concluded, the threat of 100 percent US tariffs on a wide range of Chinese goods hung in the air.

But the most powerful nudge to Beijing was its desire to join the newly formed World Trade Organization and become a full member of the global economic community. That would have been hard to pull off with the Jolly Roger flying from many of its factories.

The job of pulling the renegade colors down has only begun, of course. The Chinese government has closed some of the offending plants, including one in Shenzhen particularly notorious for its copyright violations. But US producers will watch closely to see how thorough the follow-through is. Many of these factories are reputed to have ties to top military and government officials. Their closure could reverberate through China's political system, which is already tremulous over who will succeed the elderly Deng Xiaoping.

Strengthening the rule of law in trade matters could be one more factor that encourages an opening of Chinese society and an improved climate for human rights. That, too, will bear watching.

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