President Trump raised the possibility that a U.S. dispute with Chinese telecom giant Huawei could be resolved as part of a trade deal, days after his administration cut off U.S. technology sales to the company, calling it a national security threat.
Responding to questions from a reporter Thursday afternoon, Trump called Huawei “very dangerous,” but also said White House concerns about the company could be wrapped into its tense trade talks with Beijing.
“Huawei is something that’s very dangerous. You look at what they’ve done from a security standpoint, from a military standpoint, it’s very dangerous,” Trump said. “So it’s possible that Huawei even would be included in some kind of a trade deal. If we made a deal, I could imagine Huawei being possibly included in some form of, or in some part of, a trade deal.”
Asked how that might work, Trump added: “It’s too early to say, but I mean, we’re just very concerned about Huawei from a security standpoint.”
“It shows that the ‘Art of the Deal’ is alive and well,” said Jeff Moon, who negotiated trade issues with the Chinese during the Obama administration. “In his mind, there are no principles that are not negotiable, including national security.”
Trump’s comments echoed the president’s handling of a similar case in 2018 involving another Chinese company, ZTE, which had violated U.S. sanctions by shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea.
The Commerce Department last year banned U.S. companies from supplying ZTE after finding that the Chinese manufacturer had violated the terms of an earlier settlement over its sanctions-busting.
The move was seen as a corporate death sentence.
But after a personal plea from Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump abruptly reversed course one month later, saying that “too many jobs in China” otherwise would be lost.
Huawei, a global leader in 5G network equipment, has long raised national security concerns among U.S. officials in both parties. Officials have said the company could design its equipment to facilitate the Chinese government’s efforts to spy on the United States or disable critical networks in the event of a conflict — concerns Huawei has called unfounded.
“The Huawei case is very different,” Moon said. “ZTE was not a spying issue. That’s the difference.”
Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute and a sometime administration adviser, said Congress would erupt if the president chose to restore Huawei to good standing as part of a comprehensive trade deal.
“I think people will tell him: The Congress will go crazy on a bipartisan basis and you’ll hurt yourself politically,” Scissors said. “But the president will say, if I get a good enough trade deal, it’s worth it, right?”
The national security concerns that have been raised about Huawei are “not a priority for him,” he added.
Huawei has denied U.S. government claims that it has close links to Chinese authorities. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Thursday that the company was lying.
“For them to say that they don’t work with the Chinese government is false,” Pompeo said. “The Huawei CEO on that, at least, isn’t telling the American people the truth.”