On Sunday US time, Trump tweeted: "President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!"
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018
The US and China are holding talks to try and avert an all-out trade war and Trump's tweet came ahead of a second round of talks scheduled for this week. In 2017, ZTE paid more than US$2.3 billion to 211 American suppliers.
Reuters, quoting people familiar with the matter, reported that in the first round of talks, held last week, China had asked the US to ease the crushing sanctions on ZTE; the company has also asked the US to reconsider the ban .
“I am speechless,” said Kevin Wolf, who oversaw the launch of the ZTE case as assistant secretary of commerce in the Obama administration. “I’m highly confident that a [US] president has never intervened in a law-enforcement matter like this before.” https://t.co/Kkbnaom2m0— Shawn Donnan (@sdonnan) 13 May 2018
Reuters quoted a Washington lawyer, Douglas Jacobson, as saying: "“This is a fascinating development in a highly unusual case that has gone from a sanctions and export control case to a geopolitical one.
"There’s no legal mechanism for this. How this will play out remains to be seen. They are not simply going to be able to resume business as usual." Jacobson acts for some ZTE's suppliers.
The US Department of Commerce imposed the ban on ZTE in April, saying at the time that it was due to alleged false statements made by the company during talks in 2016 over a charge of shipping telco equipment to Iran and North Korea.
As a penalty, US firms cannot sell parts to ZTE for seven years.
ZTE was fined US$1.19 billion in March 2017 and also agreed to a seven-year suspended export ban which would take effect if it was found to be in violation of the Export Administration Regulations.
Subsequently, the Department of Commerce claims to have found that statements made by ZTE to the Bureau of Industry and Security were false.