SHANGHAI (AP) -- China on Thursday defended its handling of 38 trademarks it recently approved provisionally for President Donald Trump, saying it followed the law in processing the applications at a pace that some experts view as unusually quick.
Democrats in Congress were critical of Trump after The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the potentially valuable trademarks had been granted, raising questions of conflict of interest and political favoritism. One senator said the issue "merits investigation."
Trump has sometimes struggled to win trademarks from China; he secured one recently after a 10-year fight that turned his way only after he declared his candidacy for the presidency. But he had applied for the 38 trademarks that were granted preliminary approval Feb. 27 and March 6 less than a year ago.
Critics fear foreign governments might gain leverage from Trump's global portfolio of brands, particularly in countries such as China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a regular briefing with reporters that Chinese authorities handle all trademark applications "in accordance with the law and regulation." He declined to comment on speculation about political influence on Trump's trademark approvals.
Public records show that even as Trump railed against China on the campaign trail in 2016, his lawyers applied for dozens of new trademarks in China. On Feb. 22, seven of those marks were rejected, though public records do not indicate why.
If no one objects, they will be registered after 90 days, laying the groundwork for a range of branded businesses including hotels, financial and real estate services, golf clubs, educational institutions, restaurants, and bars. That would bring the number of Trump-related registered marks in China to 115.
Trump Organization chief legal officer Alan Garten said the latest registrations were the result of "longstanding, diligent" efforts to protect the Trump brand in China, which predate his presidential run. "Any suggestion to the contrary demonstrates a complete disregard of the facts as well as a lack of understanding of international trademark law," he said in an email.
After AP reported Wednesday about the sweep of new approvals, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Ben Cardin called a press conference to lambaste President Trump for his growing Chinese entanglements. Also citing AP's report, Senator Richard Blumenthal said on the Senate floor that Trump's foreign intellectual property "merits investigation."
"This President's conflicts of interest are creeping into every corner of the world," he said in an email to the AP. "The consequence is that he has done nothing to counter Chinese currency manipulation, trade rules violations, military buildup, and other aggressive Chinese actions. Standing up for a great America means putting our nation before personal profit."
Democrats have also written to Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging scrutiny of Trump's intellectual property interests in China.
"It's time for Republicans in Congress to join our efforts to hold President Trump accountable," Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement Wednesday. "The Constitution demands it and the American people deserve it."