Chinese President Xi Jinping made personal appeals in trade talks with his US counterpart to remove sanctions on Chinese technology firms, according to a tell-all memoir by former American national security adviser John Bolton.
In his book The Room Where It Happened, Bolton said Xi raised discussions of the companies, ZTE and Huawei Technologies, in phone calls in May 2018 and June 2019, saying he would be indebted to
Donald Trump if the sanctions were eased.
In talks on trade and Taiwan at the Group of 20 Summit in the Japanese city of Osaka in 2019, Xi lectured Trump on the humiliation that China experienced as a result of the Treaty of Versailles a century earlier, according to the book. The treaty drafted in Paris in 1919 ended World War I but China refused to sign because it returned German-occupied Shandong in eastern China to Japanese control rather than Chinese rule.
The G20 discussion came a year after an 8.30pm phone call on May 8 between the leaders in which Xi brought up the issue of US Commerce Department restrictions on telecom equipment giant ZTE over its alleged violations of US sanctions on Iran, restrictions that Trump described as “very strong, even harsh”, according to the book.
“[Trump] said he had told [US Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross to work something out for China,” Bolton wrote. “Xi replied that if that were done, he would owe Trump a favour and Trump immediately responded he was doing this because of Xi.”
On May 13, less than a week after that evening call, Trump tweeted that he and Xi were “working together to give … ZTE a way to get back into business, fast” as there were “too many jobs in China lost”. In July, the US lifted the crippling sanctions on the company.
While Trump has dismissed Bolton’s book as a “compilation of lies and made-up stories”, the anecdotes and details from his former national security adviser offer a glimpse of the Trump administration’s often erratic policy on China and closed-door talks with Chinese officials. The memoir described Trump’s diplomacy as relying heavily on personal relationships with foreign leaders, including Xi, and the Chinese president in turn making direct requests to Trump on key issues.
In the same May 2018 phone call, amid trade negotiations between the two sides, Trump told Xi he would withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, and asked Xi if he wanted to know what was in his statement, “in an almost childlike way”, according to Bolton.
“Xi said it sounded like Trump wanted to tell him, a completely on-target insight,” Bolton wrote. “Trump, in a ‘why not?’ moment, said that, feeling trust in confiding in Xi, he was terminating the nuclear deal, which was bad, and that we would see what happened. Xi said he would keep the news confidential.”
A Chinese foreign ministry statement on the call said the two had discussed trade and the Korean peninsula, but did not mention Iran.
US President Donald Trump was lectured by Chinese President Xi Jinping about the humiliation that China experienced as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, according to John Bolton’s memoir.