President Donald Trump said Sunday he has instructed his Commerce Department to help get a Chinese telecommunications company “back into business” after the US government cut off access to its American suppliers.
At issue is that department’s move last month to block the ZTE Corp., a major supplier of telecoms networks and smartphones based in southern China, from importing American components for seven years. The US accused ZTE of misleading American regulators after it settled charges of violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran.
ZTE, which has more than 70,000 employees and has supplied networks or equipment to some of the world’s biggest telecoms companies, said in early May that it had halted its main operations as a result of the department’s “denial order.”
Trump, who has taken a hard line on trade and technology issues with Beijing, tweeted on Sunday that he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping “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!”
Though it’s unclear from Trump’s tweet what his plan entails, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Politico in a statement that Trump expects Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to “exercise his independent judgment… to resolve the regulatory action involving ZTE based on its facts.”
She added: “The administration is in contact with China on this issue, among others in the bilateral relationship.”
But Trump’s critics appeared less than impressed with his tweet on Sunday.
“How about helping some American companies first?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.
ZTE has asked the department to suspend the seven-year ban on doing business with US technology exporters. By cutting off access to US suppliers of essential components such as microchips, the ban threatens ZTE’s existence, the company has said.
During recent trade meetings in Beijing, Chinese officials said they raised their objections to ZTE’s punishment with the American delegation, which they said agreed to report them to Trump.
The US imposed the penalty after discovering that Shenzhen-based ZTE, which had paid a $1.2 billion fine in the case, had failed to discipline employees involved and paid them bonuses instead.