File photo of US President Donald Trump. Photograph:( Reuters )
President Donald Trump today defended his decision to offer an olive branch to Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE, which his administration had previously banned from purchasing US components or acquiring American companies.
Following series of complaints from China, Trump has asked his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to look into the issue. The move was criticised by anti-China hardliners in the US, saying the President is getting soft on China in the middle of trade negotiations.
The company shut its main operations after the Commerce Department banned U.S. companies from selling components to ZTE for seven years after it violated the terms of a settlement deal for illegally shipping goods made with US parts to Iran and North Korea.
"ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from US companies. This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi," Trump said on Monday.
ZTE paid more than $2.3 billion to 211 US exporters in 2017, a senior ZTE official said on Friday. US companies are estimated to provide 25 per cent to 30 per cent of components used in ZTE's smartphones, network gear and other products.
ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 14, 2018
White House Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters that Trump has asked Ross to look into the ZTE issue, consistent with applicable laws and regulations.
"This is part of a very complex relationship between the US and China that involves economic issues, national security issues and the like. It's an issue of high concern for China that's been raised with the US government and with our administration at various levels," he told reporters at a news conference.
Shah was responding to questions on a tweet by Trump in which he had said that he was working with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to give China's telecom giant ZTE a way to get back into business.
"The matter has been brought up at a number of levels, you know, as part of bilateral talks on a number of issues," he said.
Shah, however, refrained it from linking the ZTE issue with the upcoming trade meetings between the US and Chinese officials.
"It's part of again the US relationship with China, which is complex. It has economic factors, it has national security factors. This is just one of many factors, and again the President is asking the Secretary of Commerce to look into the matter consistent with laws and regulation," he said.
The White House strongly refuted allegations that Trump was giving any kind of "concession" to the Chinese companies.
Responding to a question on "how does the President Trump's statement that too many Chinese jobs are at risk square with his campaign promise that China is stealing American jobs?"
Shah replied, "I don't think this has frankly any bearing on the President's campaign promises...The President has overseen an economy in which we have the lowest unemployment rate since 2000. It's at 3.9 per cent, over two million jobs have been created since this President took office,"
"With respect to trade with China, he's been tough. Let's put this into context. I mean this President has taken China to task for its unfair trade practices through this Section 301 investigation. He's introduced and proposed or rather up to USD 150 billion of tariffs on China for intellectual property theft, dumping in a range of you know inimical Chinese economic action. So he's been tough and he's confronted them, he added.