March 23, 2018 / 12:40 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 2-Japan's Aso says closely watching U.S. tariff moves against China

* U.S. tariffs target up to $60 bln of Chinese goods

* Aso shares view of need to protect intellectual property

* Safe-haven yen rises on fear of global trade tensions

* Government warns on yen rise, seeks exemption from steel tariff (Adds government spokesman, details)

By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO, March 23 (Reuters) - Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Friday that he would closely watch the United States’ move to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods.

Aso made the comment just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that will target Chinese imports, though only after a 30-day consultation period that gives China space to respond.

The threatened tariffs and possible investment restrictions on China stem from a U.S. investigation of alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property by Chinese companies.

“Japan, as well as the United States, understands the importance of strengthening and effectively enforcing protection of intellectual property,” Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Aso added that he needed to examine the U.S. memorandum in detail.

The yen hit a 16-month high against the dollar on Friday as traders sought safety in the Japanese currency after the U.S. announcement caused worry over global trade tensions, triggering a selloff on Wall Street and stock markets in Asia.

The dollar fell to as low as 104.635 yen, its lowest since November 2016, in early Asian trade as the safe haven Japanese currency pushed higher.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned against yen’s gains on Friday, saying that he would closely monitor market movements “with a sense of urgency”.

The top government spokesman also said it would be extremely regrettable if U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium apply to Japan, and that he would continue to urge the United States to exempt his country.

Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs, which are tied to Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, go into effect on Friday. Canada and Mexico have been given initial exemptions from the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminium tariffs.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea, would also be exempted. (Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Eric Meijer)

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