Trump Defends Reversal on ZTE Sanctions as Reflecting ‘Larger Trade Deal’

US President Donald Trump welcomed China's President Xi Jinping conciliatory comments on trade, easing fears the two economies will careen towards a trade war

Donald Trump defended his decision to intervene against U.S. sanctions on Chinese communications technology company ZTE with a tweet explaining that the Chinese company is a big customer of U.S. tech manufacturing companies.

The president added that backtracking on the sanctions is part of a larger trade deal being worked out with China and a reflection of his “personal relationship” with China’s president.

The Commerce Department last month ordered American companies to halt sales to ZTE for seven years in response to its finding the Chinese phone maker violated American trade sanctions on Iran and North Korea. As a result, chip makers were banned from selling components to ZTE for its phones, and Google could not update software on ZTE phones using the Android platform. The prohibition crippled ZTE, forcing the company to halt nearly all of its operations.

On Sunday, Trump surprisingly tweeted out that he was working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to save Chinese telecom giant ZTE, saying “too many jobs in China lost.” He said he had instructed Commerce to “get it done.”

This prompted criticism from Trump’s supporters, from Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and many of Trump’s critics.

The White House issued a statement Sunday that did little to clarify the president’s decision or relieve the concerns of supporters and critics.

“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. The administration is in contact with China on this issue, among others in the bilateral relationship. President Trump expects Secretary Ross to exercise his independent judgment, consistent with applicable laws and regulations, to resolve the regulatory action involving ZTE based on its facts,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in the statement.