Confusion was in the air after President Donald Trump ordered a bailout for ZTE, a Chinese-government-owned cellphone maker.
The answer is simple: The president stands to profit from an Indonesian resort project that will get $500 million in Chinese loans in a deal sealed just 72 hours before his tweet ordering help for ZTE.
“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast,” Trump announced on Twitter Sunday morning. “Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back in… https://t.co/E24lCZ6ZQz— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1526223660.0
The president followed up with several more tweets, all of which stressed the importance of negotiating a trade deal which benefits both nations.
"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. the president wrote. He added: "But be cool, it will all work out!"
China and the United States are working well together on trade, but past negotiations have been so one sided in fav… https://t.co/L81eSKAcjh— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1526239323.0
The president later defended his reversal, despite bipartisan concerns that ZTE poses a national security risk.
"ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies," Trump tweeted yesterday. "This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi."
ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also r… https://t.co/2pYRvSL0NL— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1526328413.0
Earlier this morning, he promised his followers that there would soon be more updates on trade negotiations.
"Trade negotiations are continuing with China. They have been making hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the U.S., for many years. Stay tuned!"
Trade negotiations are continuing with China. They have been making hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the… https://t.co/SPu8TrgTMU— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1526387730.0
But the president never mentioned that last week, the developer of a theme park resort outside of Jakarta, Indonesia, had signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million in loans from the Chinese government. Nor did he mention that the Trump Organization has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort, which includes a golf course and several hotels.
The White House did not respond when pressed for comment on the “MNC Lido City” project or Trump's directive.
That’s not something that I can speak to,” said Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, who referred all questions about the project to the Trump Organization.
The Trump Organization, meanwhile, acknowledged its involvement in the resort, but would not answer questions about how much it would profit from its licensing or management fees.
The president also appeared to undermine his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, whom he directed to bail out ZTE, when he contradicted an answer Ross gave to the press about how the Department of Commerce would proceed with the president's instruction.
Ross, during an appearance at the National Press Club, said ZTE "did do some inappropriate things. They've admitted to that."
Those "inappropriate things"––which amounted to breaking its agreement to punish employees who violated US sanctions against North Korea and Iran––prompted the Trump administration earlier this year to prohibit ZTE from buying parts from American companies for seven years. Now, of course, the administration is seeking to reverse the penalty.
"The question is: Are there additional remedies to the one we had originally put forward?" Ross continued. "And that's the area we will be exploring very, very promptly." Referring to ZTE, he said: "Our position has been that's an enforcement action, separate from trade."
Hours later, however, the president tweeted that the bailout is indeed about trade.
No one in the Trump administration––least of all the president himself––has addressed the question of the Indonesian resort and the profit the Trump Organization will make from Chinese investment. Many took to social media to share their concerns.
"Every Dem candidate should press their opponent to answer: Do you agree w/Trump that US should help save jobs at Chinese phone company ZTE?" wrote Ronald Klain, a former White House official who served under the Obama administration.
Every Dem candidate should press their opponent to answer: Do you agree w/Trump that US should help save jobs at Chinese phone company ZTE?— Ronald Klain (@Ronald Klain)1526357007.0
"Trump wants to reopen Chinese Smartphone giant ZTE in order to save Chinese Jobs. Meanwhile, he ignores the fact that Flint, Michigan still doesn't have clean drinking water, and Puerto Rico still doesn't have power," wrote journalist Ed Krassenstein.
Kyle Griffin, the producer of MSNBC's "The Last Word" reminded his followers that "The heads of the NSA, FBI, and CIA are also concerned that ZTE may be using their technology to spy on U.S. consumers."
The U.S. hit ZTE with a 7-year ban for violating Iran and North Korea sanctions, then lying about their efforts to… https://t.co/Gwe90SAhEO— Kyle Griffin (@Kyle Griffin)1526328912.0
The president's move also earned a rebuke from a political watchdog group.
“This is stunning. They perpetually find new things to surprise me,” said Robert Weissman, who is the president of the open government advocacy group Public Citizen. "The idea of the president intervening in a law enforcement matter to satisfy a foreign government is extraordinary. And it’s extraordinary because it doesn’t happen. Opening that door threatens the integrity of all corporate law enforcement.”