President Donald Trump says he is looking for a way to let a Chinese technology firm “get back into business fast” after U.S. trade ruling severely crippled the company.
“Too many jobs in China lost,” Trump tweeted Sunday, days after ZTE announced it had ceased “major operating activities.”
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018
The U.S. had cut off exports of U.S.-made parts to ZTE — more than 25 percent of the components ZTE needs to build its wireless stations, optical fiber networks and smartphones.
The U.S. cutoff came after ZTE was, in the words of one expert, “caught red-handed” putting the U.S. technology into products and selling those goods to countries under a U.S. trade embargo, including Iran and North Korea.
The U.S. fined ZTE $1.2 billion last year. But the U.S. said last month ZTE lied about punishing the employees believed to be involved in skirting the sanctions, paying them bonuses instead.
The Commerce Department cut off ZTE’s access to U.S. components until 2025, forcing it to shut down operations at its factory in Shenzhen.
Trump has often complained about China stealing U.S. jobs. But he tweeted he is working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to ease the economic fallout at ZTE and ordered the U.S. Commerce Department “to get it done!”
“The president’s tweet underscores the importance of a free, fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial economic trade and investment relationship between the United States and China,” the White House said Sunday. “The administration is in contact with China on this issue, among others, in the bilateral relationship.”
Douglas Jacobson, an attorney who represents suppliers who do business with ZTE, told VOA that Trump’s order to help ZTE is a stunning decision and one bound to make U.S. law enforcement officials unhappy by going over their heads.
“This has caught all of those in the exports and sanctions world certainly by surprise and with some degree of shock and awe,” Jacobson said. “This is unprecedented that the president of the United States would intervene in what really is a law enforcement case.”
But Jacobson said the ZTE matter is not a sign of a general thaw in trade tensions between the U.S. and China, including the recent tit-for-tat tariffs.
Jacobson said he believes Trump may be willing to make a concession on China in exchange for China’s help with North Korea.
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Steve Herman, Ken Bredemeier, Ira Mellman and Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.