Fresh from talks with China over its lax compliance with World Trade Organization rules, a senior US trade official said that he was “optimistic” that Washington and Beijing could resolve the disputes, including those over protecting intellectual property rights.

Looking to get tough with China during an election year, however, US Commerce Department undersecretary for international trade Grant Aldonas also said that the “bill has become due” for China to comply with WTO rules after joining the trade regulating body in late 2001.

“I’m optimistic that we can get to the right result,” he told a press conference in Tokyo, saying that it was too early to take joint measures with other trading partners on Beijing’s compliance.

Next month, the Joint US-China Commission on Commerce and Trade will try to address the various bilateral trade issues, he said, saying that he was just in Beijing to lay the groundwork for the talks. But, if there isn’t progress at that point, the US will have to start talking with its other trading partners on how to deal with China, he said.

“If we fail in our efforts, that’ll be the point when we’ll have to sit down, not just with Japan, but many of our other trading partners, and talk seriously about how you grapple with an endemic problem in China” of slack intellectual property rights protection, he said.

Aldonas said that according to the Business Software Alliance, a global industry trade group, 90% of the software sold in China is counterfeit.

Tensions have intensified over the US trade deficit with China, which hit $124 billion last year - the biggest gap the US has ever recorded with any nation.

Two weeks ago, the US filed the first-ever WTO case against China over its imposition of a 17% tax on chip sales in China. Domestically made chips receive a 14% rebate. Washington contends the practice - aimed at encouraging local production of semiconductors - violates WTO regulations. (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)