WASHINGTON: A group of 30 Democratic senators today termed as "disappointing" US President Donald Trump's recent move to aid ZTE, the Chinese telecom giant, asserting that the US' policies toward China should put American workers, farmers and businesses first, not the Chinese.
Trump tweeted his support for ZTE this week, putting the president at odds with the Commerce Department, which imposed trade restrictions on the company amid allegations it violated US sanctions.
"Your recent remarks directing (Commerce) Secretary (Wilbur) Ross to help ZTE, a Chinese company that has repeatedly sold sensitive US technologies to Iran and North Korea in clear violation of American sanctions laws, call into grave doubt whether this administration will put American jobs and national security first," the senators said in a letter to Trump.
The senators in their letter claimed that the direction to the Department of Commerce to look into easing penalties imposed on ZTE for violations that include selling sensitive US technologies to Iran and North Korea was in violation of US sanctions laws.
"Your order comes as your administration is in the midst of discussions with China to address China's market-distorting policies and other tactics to undermine key American industries," the letter said.
The senators rued that the statement suggests that the administration is "not serious" about addressing the many economic challenges China presents and poses risk to American national security.
"As your top trade negotiator recognised in his trade report on China less than six months ago, to address the very serious and harmful problems generated by China's trade regime, China must truly embrace a market-oriented approach, rooted in the fundamental WTO principles of non-discrimination, market access, reciprocity, fairness and transparency.
There is no evidence that China has agreed to such a shift in approach," the letter said.
As such, the Democratic senators urged Trump to focus on identifying effective strategies to reshape China's policy approach in each of these areas, such as through enforceable commitments to eliminate forced technology transfer policies, market-distorting subsidies, data localisation policies, and foreign investment restrictions, and ensuring nondiscriminatory treatment of US firms in regulatory and other proceedings.
Separately, top Republican Senator Marco Rubio too warned the White House on ZTE.
"No one should feel sorry for ZTE. This is a company heavily subsidised by the Chinese government, that protects them at home, protects them in China, subsidises them in China, but then exports them abroad with the hopes that they can help them steal secrets and monitor and be an arm in the tool of intelligence for them," Rubio said on the Senate floor.
He said he was surprised to see that Trump's tweet a couple of days ago were followed by some articles possibly suggesting that the sanctions might be going away in exchange for a deal on agriculture.
"If that's what happens, the president has gotten terrible advice, and it would be a terrible thing for him to do. It would be deeply problematic for the national security of the US and ultimately for his hopes of rebalancing America's relationship with china geopolitically, economically, commercially, and certainly on security," Rubio said.
Indirectly seeking ouster of ZTE from the US, he said if a technology company from another country was being used by that country not just to spy on government secrets, but to steal the intellectual property of "our business, they should be out of business in the US."