Penny Pritzker is not afraid to be the bearer of bad news.
When meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier this month, it was the Commerce Secretary’s job to bring up U.S. business complaints, including recent hacking incidents and Chinese demands that American tech companies turn over data and intellectual property.
“It was an important conversation that needed to be had,” said Pritzker, speaking Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to hacking and cybersecurity, the message was simple, said Pritzker. “You can’t keep stealing things.” (She admits that she may have put it more delicately to President Xi). Moving to protect intellectual property is in China’s interest, she says. As more home-grown tech companies come out of the country, Chinese companies will increasingly demand it.
It’s clear that exports and the other forces that helped China grow into a power player won’t be enough to fuel its continued growth. The takeaway for Xi? “You’re at a pivot point as a leading player in the global economy,” said Pritzker.
As for the response, Pritzker says Xi and his delegation were always very cordial. And at one point, she says that one of the Chinese President’s advisors took her aside to say, of intellectual property protection: “Look we get it and we have to address this.”
The ultimate test, said Pritzker is what the Chinese government actually does to address these concerns. She says he told Xi: “It’s about your actions and we’re going to be paying attention to your actions.”
The Secretary also addressed a couple of other hot topics: President Obama’s moves to begin normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba and regional trade accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP).
Having just returned from Cuba, Pritzker said she was proud to become the second cabinet member to visit the nation—though she counseled anyone seeking business opportunities there to remember that an embargo is still in place. For those looking for advice about how to navigate the ins and outs of operating in Cuba, she suggested contacting the Commerce Department.
Pritzker also spoke out in praise of the TTP, saying that the agreement will boost American economic leadership globally. The plan not only helps market access by lifting tariffs on U.S. goods abroad, but also sets in place the strongest labor standards of any trade treaty. These standards will make our workers more competitive, according to Pritzker.
Finally, the heiress to the Hyatt Hotels Corporation said she plans to returning to the private sector when her time in office comes to an end. As she once told moderator Nina Easton, “I love starting businesses.”