What the colum­nists said

Trump of­fers sur­prise re­lief to Chinese firm

The Week (US) - - News 5 -

Pres­i­dent Trump un­ex­pect­edly soft­ened his po­si­tion on trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with China this week by pledg­ing to save a ma­jor Chinese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firm from crip­pling U.S. sanc­tions. In an about-face that stunned even his own ad­vis­ers, Trump tweeted that he had or­dered the Com­merce Depart­ment to help Chinese smart­phone maker ZTE “get back into busi­ness fast,” say­ing that its fail­ure would cost “too many jobs in China.” In 2017, the Com­merce Depart­ment fined ZTE $1.2 bil­lion for sell­ing elec­tron­ics to Iran and North Korea, in vi­o­la­tion of U.S. sanc­tions, and last month barred U.S. tech­nol­ogy firms from sell­ing parts to the com­pany for seven years. Un­able to find al­ter­na­tive sup­pli­ers, ZTE, which em­ploys 75,000 peo­ple, be­gan to shut­ter its op­er­a­tions last week.

U.S. trade ne­go­tia­tors are now re­port­edly work­ing with their Chinese coun­ter­parts on a deal that would re­lieve the penal­ties against ZTE in ex­change for Bei­jing re­mov­ing tar­iffs on bil­lions of dol­lars of Amer­i­can agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. Even so, U.S. law­mak­ers from both par­ties crit­i­cized Trump’s sur­prise con­ces­sion, say­ing his move could un­der­mine the U.S. ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion, as well as na­tional se­cu­rity. U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have warned that ZTE phones and modems could be used by the Chinese gov­ern­ment to spy on Amer­i­cans. Trump de­fended his de­ci­sion, say­ing it was in the coun­try’s best in­ter­est be­cause U.S. sup­pli­ers would oth­er­wise lose ZTE’s busi­ness. “This is also re­flec­tive of the larger trade deal we are ne­go­ti­at­ing with China and my per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Xi,” the pres­i­dent tweeted. “It now seems to be dawn­ing on Don­ald Trump that trade wars are nei­ther good nor easy to win,” said Jor­dan Weiss­mann in Slate.com. Trump knows he has to de-es­ca­late ten­sions with China be­cause he needs Bei­jing’s help in up­com­ing nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea. Re­lax­ing sanc­tions on ZTE is a pre­req­ui­site for China’s en­gage­ment. “If you’re a glass-half-full kind of per­son, you could look at this and see a pres­i­dent ca­pa­ble of learn­ing.”

But this “par­tic­u­lar quid pro quo sets a dan­ger­ous prece­dent,” said David Fick­ling in Bloomberg.com. The penal­ties on ZTE weren’t meant to be a ne­go­ti­at­ing chip: The com­pany broke the law by vi­o­lat­ing Amer­i­can sanc­tions and then ly­ing about it. Al­low­ing Bei­jing to essen­tially buy a “get-out-of-jail-free card” sends a ter­ri­ble mes­sage. “Any gov­ern­ment en­tan­gled in a dis­pute with Wash­ing­ton now knows that it need only threaten the Trumpvot­ing farm belt to get off the hook.”

“Some­thing fishy is hap­pen­ing,” said Matthew Ygle­sias in Vox .com. The pres­i­dent just sur­ren­dered one of his big­gest sources of trade lever­age against the Chinese, “with no ex­pla­na­tion, no back­ground brief­ing, and seem­ingly no con­sul­ta­tion with the relevant of­fi­cials.” Two days be­fore he “flip-flopped,” how­ever, a Chinese state-owned com­pany ap­proved a $500 mil­lion loan to In­done­sian de­vel­op­ers for a Trump-branded re­sort out­side Jakarta. “Un­der nor­mal po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances,” it would be out­landish to sug­gest the pres­i­dent is be­ing bribed by a foreign coun­try for his own per­sonal gain. But in 2018, noth­ing is nor­mal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.