Photo Illustration: Axios visuals, Photo: Fred Dufor/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's desire to help save ZTE could set the tone for the treatment of another Chinese telecom company that's under investigation for sanctions violations.

Why it matters: China could use Trump's apparent pivot on ZTE as a stepping stone to free Huawei, the other, bigger Chinese phone maker. Or the ZTE case could be a lesson for the U.S. in negotiating with China that taking the toughest possible approach to China might not be the smartest when the Asian power is stronger than ever and prepared to fight back.

Between the lines: "Ross had a color wheel of approaches [on ZTE] ranging from a handslap to breaking them as a company," says Chris Johnson, a former CIA China analyst who's now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

  • The Chinese might have stomached a slap on the wrist, but by banning American companies from selling parts to ZTE, Ross served up a punishment harsh enough to halt operations. China in turn made ZTE a top trade priority and used its massive leverage to potentially sway the president.

The backdrop...

  • ZTE has been found guilty of breaking U.S. law three times, including violating sanctions by selling equipment with American parts to Iran and North Korea.
  • The Pentagon has banned the sale of ZTE and Huawei phones at retail stores on military bases, citing concerns that the companies are using their devices to spy on military personnel.
  • ZTE and Huawei are both key players in China's race to dominate 5G and the future of mobile communication. The Chinese Communist Party is painting U.S. moves against the Chinese phone makers as efforts to knock China out of the 5G race.

The deal...

  • "The U.S. and China are closing in on a deal that would give China’s ZTE Corp. a reprieve from potentially crippling U.S. sanctions in exchange for Beijing removing tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. agricultural products, said people in both countries briefed on the deal," the Wall Street Journal's Lingling Wei and Bob Davis report.
  • Steven Mnuchin is leading the U.S. in negotiating a deal that puts the brakes on actions against ZTE in exchange for China buying down its trade surplus, reports Axios' Jonathan Swan.
  • China's trade negotiator, Liu He, is in DC today. Axios contributor Bill Bishop hears that Liu will arrive "with an open checkbook to buy down the deficit but that progress on anything structural will be much harder,” per his Sinocism newsletter.

Go deeper: Trump's grand bargain on China... What Larry Kudlow told Axios earlier today.

Go deeper

Updated 31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Obama: Trump is "jealous of COVID's media coverage" Axios-Ipsos poll: Federal response has only gotten worse.
  2. Health: Hospitals face a crush — 13 states set single-day case records last week.
  3. Business: Winter threat spurs new surge of startup activity.
  4. Media: Pandemic causes TV providers to lose the most subscribers ever.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota cases traced to three Trump campaign events.
  6. World: Putin mandates face masks.

Louisiana braces for 3rd hurricane in 2 months as Tropical Storm Zeta nears

Municipality workers clean the streets of garbage in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Tuesday that was left by Zeta, which struck the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 1 Hurricane a day earlier — causing no major damage to infrastructure. Photo: Medios y Media/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Zeta is expected to strengthen back into a hurricane and bring dangerous storm surge conditions to parts of the northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

The state of play: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) requested a pre-landfall Federal Declaration of Emergency in a letter to President Trump on Tuesday, ahead of the storm's expected arrival south of New Orleans.

2 hours ago - Technology

Trump's campaign website hacked

A screenshot of the Trump campaign website after it was hacked.

The Trump campaign website briefly went down and its "About" page was modified after hackers attacked the site Tuesday evening.

The big picture: With just seven days before the election, the hackers emulated the FBI and declared on the "About" page that: "this was seized. the world has had enough of the fake-news spreaded [sic] daily by president donald j trump. it is time to allow the world to know truth." Two addresses linked to the cryptocurrency Monero appeared on the site. Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh in a statement said no sensitive data had been exposed in the attack.

Go deeper: Twitter hack raises fears of an unstable election