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Trump promises to help Chinese telecom ZTE—and the internet can’t believe it

Trump is getting ready for a trade meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping.


Chris Tognotti

Layer 8

Posted on May 13, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 3:59 pm CDT

President Donald Trump has announced that he’s working with Xi Jinping, the president of China, to try to reverse the fortunes of Chinese telecom company ZTE. It’s being seen as a concession to China in advance of upcoming trade talks, an effort to rectify increasing trade hostilities between the two countries.

But the details of why ZTE has been in such dire straits―despite being one of the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturers―and why it requires Trump’s help to get things restarted, is fueling criticism and scrutiny of the president.

Specifically, ZTE has struggled mightily due to American companies like Qualcomm and Intel being disallowed from exporting tech to the company. That’s because ZTE was exposed in 2017 for having illegally shipped U.S.-made goods to Iran, in violation of American sanctions on the Middle Eastern country. Earlier this week, ZTE announced it was ceasing its “major operating activities,” because the inability to buy American-made parts had made things untenable.

Trump’s embrace of ZTE―and just days after announcing the U.S. will no longer comply with the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under the Obama administration―is stirring serious controversy. Trump announced his support for ZTE in a tweet on Sunday, noting that “too many jobs in China” have been lost. This is something of a break from his typical “America first” rhetoric, which may speak to his understanding of the importance of the upcoming meeting.

The escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China really kicked off in late March, when Trump announced $60 billion in tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods. This immediately stirred fears of a trade war between the two global superpowers. China has seemingly responded by halting purchases of U.S. soybeans. Trump and Xi will reportedly be meeting to discuss the trade strife next week, although to what extent ZTE’s situation will be part of the conversation is not totally clear.

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*First Published: May 13, 2018, 2:48 pm CDT