United States President Donald Trump has pledged to help ZTE Corp "get back into business, fast" after a US ban crippled the Chinese technology company, offering a job-saving concession to Beijing ahead of high-stakes trade talks this week.
"Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!" Trump wrote on Twitter in the first of two tweets about US trade relations with China. It said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working together on a solution for ZTE.
Shortly after Trump's tweet, a Democratic lawmaker questioned the move to help the Chinese company, given numerous warnings about ZTE's alleged threat to US national security.
ZTE suspended its main operations after the US Commerce Department banned American companies from selling to the firm for seven years as punishment for ZTE breaking an agreement reached after it was caught illegally shipping US goods to Iran.
The Commerce Department, ZTE and the Chinese embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters confirmed that US officials are in contact with Beijing about ZTE. She said Trump's tweet underscored the importance of "free, fair, balanced and mutually beneficial" relations between the United States and China on issues involving the economy, trade and investment.
Trump expects Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross "to exercise his independent judgment, consistent with applicable laws and regulations, to resolve the regulatory action involving ZTE based on its facts," Walters said.
US officials are preparing for talks in Washington with China's top trade official Liu He to resolve an escalating trade dispute.
Trump's proposed reversal will likely ease relations between the world's two biggest economies. Washington and Beijing have proposed tens of billions of dollars in tariffs in recent weeks, fanning worries of a full-blown trade war that could hurt global supply chains and dent business investment plans.
In trade talks in Beijing this month, China asked the United States to ease crushing sanctions on ZTE, one of the world’s largest telecommunications equipment makers, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
In a second tweet on Sunday, Trump said past US trade talks with China posed a hurdle that he predicted the two countries would overcome.
"China and the United States are working well together on trade, but past negotiations have been so one sided in favor of China, for so many years, that it is hard for them to make a deal that benefits both countries," Trump wrote on Twitter.
"But be cool, it will all work out!" he added.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Karen Freifield; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, David Lawder, Chris Sanders and David Morgan; Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Simao)