President Trump surprised the business world Sunday by saying Washington would help keep the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE alive—right after US sanctions had crippled it, the New York Times reports. "President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast," tweeted Trump. "Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!" The Commerce Department last month imposed a seven-year ban on US companies shipping technology to ZTE, saying it had allowed workers to disregard US trade controls on North Korea and Iran.
Then ZTE, which has 70,000 workers across 160 countries, announced Wednesday that it was stopping "major operating activities." So, what's up? "Given his pressure on Beijing on trade, I don’t understand concern for Chinese jobs," says technology and security expert Adam Segal. In fact, many analysts are "initially scratching their heads," the Times says, while the Wall Street Journal calls Trump's about-face "extraordinary." Reuters notes that US suppliers like Intel and Qualcomm will likely suffer "a significant impact" from the Commerce Department ban. American companies are said to supply 25% to 30% of components used by ZTE, which makes smartphones and gear for telecom networks.