Lawmakers raise alarm over Trump’s move to help Chinese tech giant ZTE
Lawmakers from both parties raised concerns about President Trump’s effort to aid Chinese firm ZTE during a hearing on telecommunications and national security on Wednesday.
The hearing, organized by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, came days after Trump wrote on Twitter that he had directed federal officials to get ZTE “back into business, fast” after the telecoms manufacturer was forced to shut down major operations as a result of U.S. penalties.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said he was “concerned” by Trump’s comment, suggesting that it signaled a “loosening up” on ZTE in the wake of the penalties issued last month. The Commerce Department announced in April that it would bar American firms from selling products to ZTE, accusing the company of violating sanctions on Iran. ZTE is currently fighting the ban.
“I was very surprised and, frankly, concerned by the president’s comments recently, in fact, showing somehow a loosening up of that concern with ZTE,” Kinzinger said Wednesday. “I hope they were comments that were misinterpreted or at least there is some other thought given to that.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) charged that Trump’s tweet “muddled his own foreign policy.”
“The Trump administration has made this problem significantly more difficult. With a tweet, the president muddled his own foreign policy – if he even had one – after the Commerce Department announced strong sanctions for ZTE for risking our national security,” Pallone said.
“This makes absolutely no sense, in my opinion,” he added.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) suggested that committee should send a formal, bipartisan letter to the administration on the matter to signal to Trump that “this is not the way to go.”
“I’m not saying this to be political. This is a national security issue and Republicans and Democrats have taken both at this committee, at the House Intelligence Committee, for years have weighed relative to these companies and the national security threat,” Eshoo said. “I don’t know what’s happening. I think the Secretary of Commerce certainly did the right thing. We should do this on a bipartisan basis.”
“Overall, it’s wrong and it’s dangerous for us,” she added.
The White House said Monday that Chinese officials had raised the issue of ZTE’s business operations in bilateral talks “on a number of issues.” Officials from both countries are currently locked in negotiations over trade, and Chinese officials are expected in Washington later this week to continue those.
Trump’s comments on ZTE over the weekend triggered immediate questions and criticism from lawmakers in both parties. The president has since defended the move, suggesting that relieving the ban would help American companies.
“ZTE, the largest Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi,” he tweeted Monday.
On Wednesday, lawmakers repeatedly broached broader security concerns that have long been raised about ZTE and Huawei, another Chinese telecoms provider. Many have worried that the firms could be leveraged by China in spy operations. Top intelligence officials gave credence to these concerns in February, when they testified that they would not recommend Americans use products or services from either firm.
Under Trump, the U.S. government has taken steps to place restrictions these companies as a result of national security concerns. The Pentagon, for instance, directed military base stores to stop selling devices produced by Huawei and ZTE earlier this month.
“The United States of America cannot afford to play footsie with these companies,” Eshoo said Wednesday. “They represent a direct challenge to our national security.”