Donald Trump says working with Xi Jinping to save telecom giant ZTE

Shanghai ZTE Corporation R&D Center

Trump earlier in the day said he's working with Chinese President Xi Jingping to get Chinese company ZTE "a way to get back into business, fast".

The announcement by the fourth-largest wireless equipment maker in the country comes amid an escalating trade battle between the US and China.

ZTE announced Wednesday that "the major operating activities of the company have ceased".

United States commentators say the tone of the tweet is a dramatic shift for Mr Trump, who has consistently accused China of stealing U.S. jobs.

The extent of the impact of the Commerce Department ban on USA suppliers was noted by the ZTE official, who was not authorised to speak publicly, as Chinese and U.S. government officials discuss a Washington visit next week by China's top economic official. The export ban was placed on ZTE after the company violated USA sanctions and sold goods and services to Iran and North Korea. The punishment resulted in ZTE suspending all major operations, according to a May 10 statement.

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ZTE self-reported the discipline issue and corrected the mistakes, the ZTE official said, adding that the failure was not part of the same misconduct that led to last year's guilty plea. The company tried to quell concerns about its future in the statement. "As of now, the company maintains sufficient cash and strictly adheres to its commercial obligations subject in compliance with laws and regulations".

Granting a reprieve to ZTE - a firm with over 70,000 employees, over $17 billion in annual revenue and close ties to the government - doesn't fit with the strategy to hurt China, but then Trump's administration is hardly by the book and often times seemingly pragmatic. In March, Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum coming into the US.

Recently, though, the Trump administration also has sought to limit the encroachment of Chinese telecommunications firms in the United States. Last week, Telstra said it would stop sales of ZTE smartphones, though it indicated it was "hopeful that ZTE will be able to reach a resolution to this matter soon so that we can recommence selling Telstra-branded ZTE devices".

For instance, MTN, a South Africa-based wireless carrier with 220 million customers throughout Africa and the Middle East, said the possibility ZTE would collapse forced the carrier to develop contingency plans.

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