President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted his support for getting ZTE "back into business, fast" in the wake of a ban on supply of U.S. technology to the Chinese communications company imposed by an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce last month (see "U.S. Commerce Dept. finds ZTE violated export disciplinary agreement, bans U.S. component supply"). Press reports suggest the move may have been essential to get China to the bargaining table to discuss ongoing trade disputes.
ZTE had suspended major operations last week because it couldn't build several of its products without the U.S. components and software (see "ZTE: ‘Major operating activities of the Company have ceased' due to BIS component ban"). The company and the Chinese government had appealed to the Commerce Department and through other U.S. government channels to have the ban lifted or at least amended. Those appeals appear to have found a sympathetic ear in the White House.
"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!" read President Trump's message on Twitter.
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
According to a Reuters story posted yesterday, Chinese officials had made it clear they would not engage in trade discussions with the Trump Administration until ZTE's situation was resolved. Such trade talks are scheduled to begin this week. Speaking of the matter during his regularly scheduled press briefing today, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang welcomed President Trump's statement. "We highly appreciate these positive remarks on the ZTE issue, and we are currently in close communication with them on how exactly to implement it," he said. "As for the specific issues over which the U.S. side has voiced its concerns, our two sides also maintain close communication. Like I said just now, at the invitation of the U.S. government, Vice Premier Liu He will travel to the U.S. from May 15 to 19 for more consultations with the U.S. economic team on bilateral economic and trade issues. China is willing to work with the U.S. to ensure positive and constructive outcomes from this upcoming round of trade talks."
It remains unclear how far President Trump expects the Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security, which is overseeing the ban, to walk back from their current position. An easing of the current restrictions would no doubt be welcomed by ZTE's former U.S. suppliers as well as by the Chinese company.
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