China and the World

Trump card

President-elect wins a Chinese trademark ruling


A popular brand in China

As he began his march towards the White House, Donald Trump rallied his supporters around a number of common enemies, but none were bigger than China. China was accused of “raping” the country and stealing jobs from the American people that he, Donald Trump, intended to win back.

“I beat China all the time. All the time,” he told the crowd when he announced his candidacy. “I own a big chunk of the Bank of America Building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, that I got from China in a war,” he later bragged. But as the New York Times points out, what Trump presented as a victory was in fact more of a consolation prize.

In 1994 Trump was on the verge of bankruptcy and couldn’t find the money to make the repayments on a Manhattan property site. His salvation came from a number of Hong Kong property moguls, who agreed to buy the land, finance the development, and give Trump 30% of the profits.

Eleven years later, the Hong Kong partners sold the property for $1.76 billion, and Trump reacted by suing them for $1 billion, claiming he hadn’t been consulted on the deal. After a four-year legal battle, a court ruled against Trump, but found he was entitled to 30% of the profits from two other buildings that had been bought with the proceeds of the sale: the Bank of America buildings.

Although not an outright victory, this saga did end quite favourably for Trump. But his dealings in mainland China have been much less successful. In 2008, for example, Trump signed a partnership with China Evergrande to develop a range of luxury accommodation. He brought along his daughter Ivanka to the signing ceremony as well, reports. The partners never developed any projects as Evergrande soon ran into a debt crisis (although it has rebounded to become the second biggest homebuilder in China in terms of sales).

Another false start came in 2013, when the Trump Hotel Collection (THC) agreed to brand and manage a development owned by China’s State Grid. This agreement fell through when State Grid was found to have a zoning problem with the project: it had acquired a permit to build a research and development centre, but then began building a real estate complex, Quartz reports.

THC is, however, still eager to expand its presence in China. At the recent Asia-Pacific Premier Hospitality Conference in Hong Kong, CEO Eric Danziger announced that the company would be pushing further into the Asian market, with China the core of its growth. The group hopes to erect Trump Hotels in 30 of China’s biggest cities, reports, introducing its latest hotel brand, Scion, targeted to lower-tier cities.

Paving the way for this expansion is the conclusion of a decade-old legal battle that will finally give Trump the right to carry out construction in China under his brand name. The debacle began in 2006 when Trump applied for a number of trademarks across a range of business lines. His application for a Trump trademark covering construction work was rejected by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) because two weeks prior a local man named Dong Wei had applied for the same Trump trademark.

In 2009 Trump appealed against the SAIC ruling, taking his case to the Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court, which upheld the SAIC’s findings, and then to the Beijing Higher People’s Court, which again ruled against him in 2015. Undeterred, Trump refiled his application, and it was provisionally approved on November 13, just four days after his election win was announced. If no one objects during the 90-day notice period, the ruling will be carried.

After 10 years of legal wrangling, this may be indicative that, in China at least, Trump’s business interests are benefiting from his political ascendancy. According to NBC News the Donald has 20 ongoing trademark disputes with Chinese authorities. Of the 53 registered trademarks under the Trump name in China, the Wall Street Journal reports that only 21 are owned by Trump (trademarks for explosives, poker cards and condoms are among the 32 owned by others). It will be interesting to see if the Chinese courts rule in the future president’s favour in the ongoing cases.

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