Trump’s ZTE details are murky, but motivation is clear

July 31, 2018

There have been many theories behind the President Trump’s decision to reverse sanctions against Chinese telecom giant ZTE, and allow it to survive and deal with American companies. The company had been restricted from trading with U.S. firms, signaling a possible rapid bankruptcy. The abrupt White House reversal was attributed to a personal phone call to Mr. Trump from Chinese President Xi. Mr. Trump has made much about the close relationship he fostered with Mr. Xi at Mar-a-Lago. One source with connections said Mr. Trump was obviously lobbied by someone to reverse course. Others hint at classified reasons for the decision.

I think the reasons behind the development is quite simple.

One thing you have to realize is that everything POTUS does is interconnected. Mr. Trump thinks about a policy long and hard before actually implementing it; every decision from then on is related to his policy agenda. He prepares the battlefield prior to a negotiation to ensure victory. Many times, seemingly obtuse decisions are related to an overriding goal.

This is the situation with ZTE. It really isn’t hard to understand.

What is Mr. Trump’s main policy goal at the moment? I would submit it is to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, reducing the threat to America’s allies in the Pacific and even to the U.S. mainland itself. Mr. Trump has alot on his plate but success in just this one objective would have far-reaching positive security implications for the United States.

It is obvious that the decision on ZTE was a favor to President Xi, in response to Mr. Trump’s requests for help in the North Korean situation. China has immense influence on the North Korean regime, as does Russia. Beijing is Kim Jong-un’s number one trading partner, providing an economic lifeline to Pyongyang. China can ensure the North’s security with its massive land army and nuclear force. In short, what China does or says with the North matters. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim understand this perfectly well.

I can imagine a phone call where Mr. Xi says, “Donald, I’ll help you with Kim if you let ZTE continue to operate with American firms.” Donald Trump is a pragmatist. He knows a good deal when he sees it. He would, of course, say yes to such a proposal and then expect Mr. Xi to live up to it, all the while holding his powder dry to reimpose sanctions on ZTE if China did not live up to its part of the bargain. This is the art of the deal in action.

Thank goodness we have a president who can make such deals, who can put the overarching goal when dealing with foreign policy at the top of the decision tree; everything else flows from there.

I believe President Trump will succeed in his efforts to denuclearize Korea and boost American national security. If you think about it, the recent Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki falls into this category as well. But that’s for another column.

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