US, China Near Rescue Deal for Chinese Telecom Firm ZTE

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday “there is no deal” yet to lift the seven-year ban on the sale of American-made components to the giant Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, but that there might be a settlement as part of ongoing trade talks between the world’s two biggest economies.

Trump told reporters at the White House that he could envision a $1.3 billion fine against ZTE for violating the U.S. ban on trading with Iran and North Korea, the replacement of ZTE’s management and board of directors and imposition of “very, very strict security” to prevent the theft of U.S. intellectual and national security secrets.

“We caught them doing bad things,” he said.

Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping asked him to look into the fate of ZTE after the firm said it had to shut its production because the U.S. banned sale of American-made components ZTE uses to manufacture an array of technology products until 2025. Trump said he also heard protests from the U.S. companies selling goods to ZTE.

Trump declared he was “not satisfied” with the state of U.S.-China trade talks after last week’s negotiations in Washington. China agreed to “substantially reduce” the $375 billion annual trade surplus it has over the U.S. by buying more American goods, but there was no mention of any specific import and export targets in the statement agreed to by the two countries.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is headed to China next week for further trade talks.

Trump commented on the ZTE case as U.S. news accounts quoted officials as saying a deal was near.

His suggestion of a $1.3 billion fine was slightly more than the $1.2 billion penalty the U.S. imposed last year on ZTE after uncovering its trade ban violations.

On Sunday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said, “Do not expect ZTE to get off scot-free. Ain’t going to happen.”

Congressional opposition

But some U.S. lawmakers voiced opposition to settling the case.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost the 2016 Republican presidential nomination to Trump, contended that Washington had “surrendered” to Beijing. The Florida lawmaker said he would try to block it.

“Making changes to their board and a fine won’t stop them from spying and stealing from us. But this is too important to be over. We will begin working on veto-proof congressional action,” Rubio said on Twitter.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said, “The proposed solution is like a wet noodle,” contending ZTE’s technology devices threaten to steal U.S. national security secrets.

Rescuing ZTE

Trump last week called for rescuing ZTE “to get back into business, fast.” He said “too many jobs in China” were being lost after the U.S. banned the sales of American-made components to ZTE. The U.S. leader said, “Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

While some U.S. officials said the penalties against ZTE — the fine and the ban on sale of U.S. components until 2025 — were a law enforcement action, Trump linked the issue to ongoing trade and tariff disputes with China. The two countries over the weekend called off the threat of imposing higher tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s exports while their negotiations continue.

Meanwhile, China announced Tuesday that on July 1 it will cut tariffs on most imported cars from 25 percent to 15 percent, still well above the 2.5 percent levy the U.S. imposes on cars imported from overseas.

The announcement by China’s finance ministry follows a pledge by Xi last month to lower the import duties and to ease foreign ownership restrictions for the Chinese auto industry.

Trump repeatedly has mentioned the 25 percent automobile tariff as a key trade barrier between the two countries.

On Monday, Trump said new trade between China and the U.S. will especially benefit U.S. farmers.

“Under our potential deal with China, they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce,” he said on Twitter.

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