Money and Politics, Well Mixed

On May 13th, the United States announced (via a tweet from President Trump) that Trump and President Xi of China are working together to get the Chinese company ZTE back into business because …too many jobs in China lost.

This counters the decision by this administration (and Congress) to impose relatively severe sanctions on ZTE because it:

  • Stole technology from American companies
  • Facilitated Chinese intelligence gathering from Americans and American companies using telecommunications equipment which it manufactures and sells.
  • Sold technology to Iran and to North Korea, in violation of US law
  • Made false statements to the United States Government, as part of a scheme to cover up the other issues.

Then, the next day the Chinese government announced that it would be investing approximately $500 million into a real estate project that includes a Trump hotel and golf course.

The Trump administration press office referred questions about the connection between those two events to the Trump organization.

I would like to assume that there was no quid pro quo. I would like to assume that no Chinese officials involved in the real estate financing decision ever made subtle hints to the people running the Trump Organization that they were hoping for a favorable intervention by their father with respect to ZTE. And I would like to assume that no one in in the Trump administration suggested to the Chinese government that they would look favorably on a positive decision on the financing of the Trump Organization project. I would really like to assume that Trump had no expectations of assistance with the financing of the Trump organization project, and that he was telling the truth when he mentioned this coming as a result of a “personal relationship” with Premier Xi Jinping.

But, whatever the truth of the matter, we do know that the Chinese leadership and the leadership of other countries will not make those assumptions. They might think that the financial assistance that the Chinese supplied to President Trump’s businesses is directly linked to a massive change in course on national security-related sanctions. That puts the Trump administration in a very difficult position (or a very profitable one, depending on where their real loyalties lie).  

National Security Advisor John Bolton is now trying to pressure European countries to invoke sanctions on Iran which will cost their countries billions of dollars. It will be much more difficult to make that case if they believe that the United States completely changed course for a benefit of only half a billion dollars for the President’s personal business.

The appearance of a conflict is often more harmful than an actual conflict. Every country, especially the United States, needs policies to ensure that senior government officials are representing their national interests and only their national interests, without concern for personal dealings with foreign countries. That exact thought is actually in the U.S. Constitution (article 1, section 9):

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

When this conflict is so blatant, how are we supposed to trust that any decisions made by our President are actually being made in our national interest?

More importantly, how are foreign governments going to act when they think the easiest way to influence American foreign policy is not to commit to good policy that falls in line with our nation’s values and goals, but to funnel a couple million dollars towards Trump businesses?

Let’s make this situation absolutely clear – ZTE was put under sanctions because it sold technology to enemies of the United States that were actively trying to develop nuclear weapons, and because it was using its technology to spy on Americans on behalf of the Chinese government.

If other countries believe our president is willing to overlook that kind of conduct in exchange for personal gain, then they have no reason not to act badly. The benefit from such activity is dramatically higher than the cost if the cost is just financing some Trump project abroad. This puts American national security interests, and lives, at risk, and it must stop.

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