Top Trump administration officials such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had tried to separate the president’s push to boost ZTE from trade talks with China. Ross called it an «enforcement» issue, not a trade issue.
Trump’s public statements have muddled that message.
In a series of morning tweets Wednesday, the president said «there has been no folding» on his pledges to crack down on Chinese trade practices. He said high-level meetings on the U.S.-China trade relationship «haven’t even started yet.»
Trump also argued that the U.S. «has very little to give» in talks «because it has given so much over the years.» He added: «China has much to give!»
Trump tweet: The Washington Post and CNN have typically written false stories about our trade negotiations with China. Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal. Our country has been losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year with China…
Trump tweet: …We have not seen China’s demands yet, which should be few in that previous U.S. Administrations have done so poorly in negotiating. China has seen our demands. There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe, the meetings…
Last month, the Trump administration barred U.S. companies from selling to ZTE, a telecommunications company, for seven years. The ban came in response to the firm shipping American goods to Iran and North Korea. It effectively crippled ZTE.
On Sunday, the president said he instructed his Commerce Department to find a way to help the telecommunications equipment maker «get back into business, fast.» «Too many jobs» were lost in China, the president added.
Senate Democrats accused Trump of abandoning his pledge to crack down on alleged trade abuses by China. One Senate Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, also warned of national security risks and said he hopes «this isn’t the beginning of backing down to China.»
Trump’s concessions on ZTE come as the world’s two largest economies undertake trade discussions to avoid a potential escalating trade war. Reports have indicated Trump could ease up on ZTE in exchange for China pulling back on tariffs that threaten to damage the U.S. agricultural industry.