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Trump, in tweet, pledges help for Chinese telecom firm ZTE

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chinese President

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 9, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Fred Dufour

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday indicated he would intervene on behalf of a Chinese telecommunications company that was previously accused of lying to federal regulators and sanctioned last year by the Commerce Department for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran.

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast,” Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon, while spending time at his namesake golf course in Sterling, Virginia. “Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

Trump’s willingness to aid ZTE in preserving Chinese jobs comes despite his condemnations of China on the campaign trail. He has often cast the country’s business practices as a threat to the American workforce, and announced in March his administration would impose $50 billion worth of tariffs on imported Chinese goods to combat what he described as “unfair” trade practices by China.

The president’s tweet came days after ZTE announced its plans to shut down “major operating activities,” in China as a result of penalties that were imposed by the United States last year. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced last March that a $1.19 billion penalty had been levied against ZTE for violating U.S. sanctions prohibiting the sale of telecom equipment to Iran and North Korea.

The Commerce Department followed-up last month with additional penalties against ZTE for reportedly lying to federal regulators and engaging in an “extensive conspiracy” to cover-up its business dealings with North Korea and Iran. The department banned the shipment of American technology to the company for seven years and barred the sale of ZTE’s products in the United States for the same period.

“As a result of the conspiracy, ZTE was able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with and sales from Iranian entities to ship routers, microprocessors, and servers controlled under the Regulations for national security, encryption, regional security, and/or anti-terrorism reasons to Iran,” Richard R. Majauskas, acting assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, wrote in an April 15 letter to ZTE.

Chinese officials raised their objections to the sanctions against ZTE as part of high-level trade talks held last month in Beijing with a delegation of Trump administration officials including Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, according to media reports.

Trump, in a follow-up tweet Sunday, said “China and the United States are working well together on trade, but past negotiations have been so one sided in favor of China, for so many years, that it is hard for them to make a deal that benefits both countries. But be cool, it will all work out!”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, took aim at Trump’s offer to help ZTE, writing on Twitter: “Our intelligence agencies have warned that ZTE technology and phones pose a major cyber security threat. You should care more about our national security than Chinese jobs.”

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