This tweet yesterday from Donald Trump was truly bizarre:
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018
Notice that the so-called “America First” president is all of the sudden worried about jobs in China, the only rationale he suggested for a dramatic change in policy. We all know that’s a lie.
To understand why this is such a bizarre move, it is helpful to have a little background on ZTE. It is a telecommunications company that was fined $1.2 billion back in 2012 for, among other things, violating the sanctions against Iran. When they still failed to comply, Trump’s Commerce Department imposed a seven-year ban on the company that prevented it from buying parts from U.S. manufacturers. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross referred to the company’s behavior as egregious and stated that it couldn’t be ignored.
The president’s tweet has initiated a lot of discussion about whether or not he is using the ban against ZTE as a bargaining chip with China in their stalled trade negotiations or to buy President Xi’s help in securing an agreement with North Korea. Both of those are important questions to raise.
But this tweet from the president came on the same day that John Bolton, his national security adviser, threatened to impose secondary sanctions on European countries that fail to join this administration’s reimposition of sanctions on Iran in violation of JCPOA. So on the one hand the president is trying to give the Chinese a pass for violating Iranian sanctions while his administration threatens to impose them on our European allies.
The message here is that the United States will punish anyone who does business with Iran, except we’ll give a pass to ZTE and no one knows why. To be perfectly frank, that is nuts! It is a recipe for chaos on the world stage.
When it comes to explaining what’s actually going on, Mark Sumner nailed it.
Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t like international agreements, he not only prefers to deal one-on-one, but on a personal basis. His action in offering to save a Chinese company whose actions went directly against the interests of the United States, comes from how Donald Trump is doing business.
Under Trump, the State Department has been sidelined. Instead, the US has moved to the era of Mar-a-lago diplomacy, where international actions are determined by how well foreign leaders praise Trump’s golf course and express appreciation for the “world’s best chocolate cake.”
Trump isn’t dealing with China. He’s dealing with General Secretary Xi Jinping. And just as he’s done in his personal business dealings, Trump isn’t letting things like rules, or laws, get in the way.
For a long time now journalists have gone in search of a “doctrine” to encompass a president’s foreign policy. To be perfectly frank once again, what we’re seeing from Trump is that his doctrine is to reward foreign leaders that kiss his ass and punish those who don’t comply. There is another type of foreign leader Trump bows to: those who have the goods on his past criminal behavior. It has become increasingly clear that is the group Vladimir Putin belongs to. It remains be to seen whether ass-kissing or blackmail are the tools Xi Jinping is wielding…perhaps both.