President Donald Trump said in a tweet Sunday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working together to help Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE “get back into business, fast.”
The U.S. Commerce Department last month banned ZTE from buying components from American suppliers because the Chinese firm violated the terms of its agreement signed last year when it pleaded guilty to illegal exports to Iran. ZTE, which relies on many U.S. suppliers to manufacture its professional equipment and smartphones, said last week that it had halted its major operations. “Too many jobs in China lost,” Mr. Trump said in the Sunday tweet.
Mr. Trump’s sudden about-face highlights how much leverage China has in this squabble. Sure, ZTE’s a pretty big Chinese employer—but what can it do if Beijing decides to sacrifice a pawn in this chess match? Mr. Trump doesn’t have that kind of power back home. After all, how many U.S. jobs are on the line if China slows down or even stops its imports of American soy beans, pork or cars? To further complicate the situation, ZTE’s collapse could hurt U.S. suppliers who rely on the Chinese client for some of their revenue.