WASHINGTON — After weeks of threatening China with punitive restrictions and stiff tariffs, President Trump is now siding with his more moderate economic advisers and looking to strike a deal to avert a devastating trade war.
The administration is considering easing up on one of China’s largest telecommunications companies, ZTE, in exchange for China agreeing to buy more American products and lift its own crippling restrictions on American agriculture, people familiar with the deliberations said.
Mr. Trump defended the shift in a tweet on Monday, saying that ZTE “buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies” and that the new stance was “reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi” Jinping of China.
The move is a sharp reversal from just two weeks ago, when the views of anti-China advisers within the Trump administration appeared ascendant. Mr. Trump, spurred on by Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, and Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser, was pushing the United States toward a potential showdown with the Chinese over its economic behavior — a clash that had put many American companies at risk.
这是一个急剧转变。就在两周前，特朗普政府内部反华顾问的观点似乎还方兴未艾。当时，在美国贸易代表罗伯特·莱特希泽(Robert Lighthizer)和最高贸易顾问彼得·纳瓦罗(Peter Navarro)的鼓舞下，特朗普正推动美国朝着与中国就其经济行为展开对决的方向发展。这场冲突令很多美国企业陷入了险境。
During a trip to Beijing early this month, top American officials handed their Chinese counterparts a lengthy list of demands to dramatically change their trade practices and curtail the state’s role in the economy. The list, which included cutting their trade surplus with the United States by $200 billion, halting subsidies to advanced manufacturing and slashing their tariffs to the same level as the United States, took the Chinese by surprise, according to people familiar with the visit, and appeared to further chill relations between the two economic giants.
Mr. Trump now appears, at least for the moment, to be walking back from that tougher stance and seeking a quicker — and easier — resolution of trade conflicts with the Chinese.
The president’s reconsideration of sanctions imposed on ZTE stems in part from Beijing’s demand that the United States consider lifting the penalties ahead of a visit by Liu He, a Chinese vice premier, who was expected to arrive in Washington this week for negotiations aimed at resolving the simmering trade conflict between the two countries. The Chinese made clear that Mr. Liu’s visit was conditional on discussing the sanctions.
But the more moderate approach also stems from the more market-friendly views of two of Mr. Trump’s favorite advisers, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, who heads the National Economic Council.
但更加温和的态度也源于特朗普最青睐的两名顾问，即美国财政部长史蒂文·马努钦(Steven Mnuchin)和国家经济委员会(National Economic Council)主席拉里·库德洛(Larry Kudlow)更亲市场的观点。
Mr. Mnuchin has taken the lead role in recent weeks in pushing to resolve tensions and avoid potentially damaging tariffs and investment restrictions. He pressed for top officials to travel to China to try to resolve trade tensions, and helped fuel the president’s focus on a deal revolving around reducing the United States’ trade deficit with China, which Mr. Trump frequently denounces.
“Secretary Mnuchin has been pushing for a more conciliatory view to China for this entire period, certainly since the launch of the 301 investigation,” Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said, referring to the section of trade law that authorized an investigation into whether China had illegally obtained American intellectual property. “We see evidence that the Treasury Department does not want to impose investment sanctions on China as required by the original 301 findings.”
“整个期间，当然是从301调查启动开始，马努钦部长一直在争取对中国采取更加温和的态度，”美国企业研究所(American Enterprise Institute)驻所学者史剑道(Derek Scissors)说。他提到的是授权对中国是否非法获取美国知识产权展开调查的贸易法律条款。“我们看到的证据表明，财政部不希望像最初的301调查结果要求的那样，对中国实行投资限制。”
A senior Treasury Department official said Mr. Mnuchin has had conversations with Mr. Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in recent days about China’s ZTE concerns. However, the official said a review of the Commerce Department’s action against ZTE was not a precondition for trade talks.
Among the Trump economic officials, Mr. Mnuchin has been more encouraged by China’s expressions of willingness to address the trade imbalance between the two countries and, because of his national security responsibilities, he considers the implications for North Korea nuclear talks when engaged in trade negotiations.
The Trump administration threatened ZTE’s existence as a business last month, when the Commerce Department ordered a seven-year halt in American shipments of computer microchips and software at the heart of most of ZTE’s gear. The move hit one of the United States’ biggest telecom companies, Qualcomm, which lost the ability to export semiconductors to ZTE, one of its biggest customers. In China, Qualcomm’s plan to acquire NXP Semiconductors had been stalled by a prolonged antitrust review, which many saw as retaliation for America’s trade moves.
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security accused ZTE of violating American sanctions by selling to Iran and North Korea and then covering up the exports and rewarding the executives involved. ZTE has acknowledged it violated sanctions, but blamed the actions on poor internal controls rather than a deliberate defiance of the American legal system.
ZTE, a 75,000-employee business that makes smartphones and cellphone tower equipment, began shutting down operations last week after it was unable to find alternative suppliers.
But in a surprise tweet on Sunday, the president held out the possibility of a reversal for the company. “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!”
The president’s tweet provoked a swift and harsh response from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I hope this isn’t the beginning of backing down to China,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote on Twitter on Monday. “While Chinese companies have unrestricted access to U.S. market & protection of our laws many U.S. companies have been ruined after #China blocked market access or stole their intellectual property.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement: “This leads to the greatest worry, which is that the president will back off on what China fears most — a crackdown on intellectual property theft — in exchange for buying some goods in the short run. That’s a bad deal if there ever was one.”
A White House spokeswoman walked back the tweet on Sunday, saying that the president expected Mr. Ross to exercise his independent judgment on the ZTE case.
On Monday, Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, denied that accommodating China’s concerns represented a broken promise by Mr. Trump to protect America’s interests, saying that the relationship with China was complex.
“He’s been tough and he’s confronted them,” Mr. Shah said. “But on this issue, he’s asked the secretary of commerce to take a look at it.”
In remarks at the National Press Club on Monday, Mr. Ross said that he expected Mr. Liu to bring up ZTE when he traveled to Washington for talks this week, but that the company’s fate should not be linked to the trade negotiations.
周一，在全美新闻俱乐部(National Press Club)的发言中，罗斯说他预计刘鹤本周到访华盛顿时会提及中兴一事，但表示该公司的命运不应当与贸易谈判联系起来。
“Our position has been that is an enforcement action separate from trade,” Mr. Ross said. “ZTE did do some inappropriate things, they admitted to them.”
He added: “The question is are there alternative remedies to the one that we had originally put forward.”
Mr. Trump’s offer to throw a lifeline to ZTE found a receptive audience in Beijing on Monday, a development that could help him strike deals on thorny issues like trade and North Korea. The Chinese reaction underscored the importance that Beijing has placed on ZTE’s survival, and the company’s travails have encapsulated the worries among Chinese leaders that their country depends too much on American technology.
“We very much appreciate the positive attitude of the U.S. side to the issue of the ZTE Corporation, and are maintaining close communication with the U.S. on the implementation of specific details,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a daily briefing Monday afternoon.
Hu Xijin, the chief editor of Global Times, a newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party, used his widely followed account on the social media service Weibo to add, “No matter if the previous sanction was a card in Washington’s concerted move for a trade war on China, the newest decision is a good one.”
Mr. Trump’s move could also help calm tensions with Beijing ahead of his summit meeting next month in Singapore with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un — Mr. Xi has considerable power to help or disrupt a deal, given North Korea’s economic dependence on China.
Still, defending ZTE in a dispute involving Chinese exports to North Korea has been politically awkward for Beijing. Chinese officials believe that their country has been helpful in enforcing international sanctions against North Korea, said one senior Chinese government adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities.
In the days after the ZTE penalty was announced last month, Beijing did not try to defend the company’s ties to Iran or North Korea. ZTE was also castigated in social media by the general public for having spent so little on research and development that it was completely dependent on the United States.