- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2018

In a startling reversal, President Trump is offering to help a Chinese telecommunications company “get back into business, fast,” saying too many jobs in China are threatened after the U.S. imposed a ban on transactions with the firm.

Mr. Trump made the offer for ZTE Corp. ahead of a new round of trade talks between the U.S. and China in Washington this week.

“Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, saying he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were working together on a solution for ZTE.

The Commerce Department banned U.S. companies last month from selling to the firm for seven years as punishment for ZTE breaking a 2017 agreement after it was caught illegally shipping U.S. goods to Iran and North Korea.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday that he will be exploring “very promptly” whether there are “alternate remedies” to ZTE’s trade violations.

Congressional Democrat blasted Mr. Trump’s about-face on the issue.

“One of the few areas where the president and I agreed, and I was vocally supportive, was his approach towards China,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. “But even here he is backing off, and his policy is now designed to achieve one goal: make China great again.”

It’s not clear what specific action Mr. Trump wants Commerce to take.

“The president’s tweet underscores the importance of a free, fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial economic, trade and investment relationship between the United States and China,” said White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters in a statement.

The White House deferred to the Commerce Department on any specific questions relating to sanctions.

During trade talks in Beijing this month, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He told Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin that China would not continue talks on broader bilateral trade disputes unless Washington agreed to ease the crushing sanctions on ZTE, two people briefed on those meetings said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regularly scheduled news briefing on Monday that China “greatly appreciates the positive U.S. position on the ZTE issue.”

He said that Mr. Liu would travel to Washington from Tuesday to Saturday to continue trade talks.

For U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc., whose $44 billion takeover of NXP Semiconductors was delayed by a lengthy antitrust review by China’s Ministry of Commerce, reconsideration of the ZTE penalty could smooth the way for the deal to move forward.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that China’s Commerce Ministry had been asked to speed up the review of the deal and Qualcomm’s proposed remedies to protect local companies, after previously shelving the review process amid the trade tensions. It cited people familiar with the matter as its sources. Bloomberg did not say who had asked the ministry to speed up the review.

Christine McDaniel, a specialist on global economic issues at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, called Mr. Trump’s move “concerning.”

“There will always be tensions and disagreements between countries on cross border commercial transactions, but history has shown that the United States gets a better outcome for itself and the global economy when it focuses on trade and investment rules instead of particular commercial outcomes,” she said. “Remember, governments do not trade. Individuals and their firms trade. This administration must get back to the drawing board on the rules it desires, and work with its allies who are just as frustrated with China’s trade practices as we are.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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