A bipartisan group of senators warn Trump not to blow it in trade negotiations with China

Sens. John Cornyn and Chuck Schumer

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Sens. John Cornyn and Chuck Schumer
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • A bipartisan group of senators – 14 Republicans, 12 Democrats, and a Democrat-leaning independent – sent a letter to top Trump officials about current trade negotiations with China.
  • The bipartisan group warned against granting China’s request for the US to loosen export controls on key technologies.
  • “Any such move would bolster China’s aggressive military modernization and significantly undermine long-term US national security interests,” the letter read.

A bipartisan group of 27 senators sent a letter to Trump administration officials on Tuesday urging caution in trade negotiations with China.

The group – which including a wide array of members from the second-highest ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – warned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that any concession to China should not pose a risk to US security.

As part of the negotiations, China asked for a loosening of export control rules that prohibit the sale of potentially sensitive US technology to the country. The senators said this could undermine US safety if China is able to use the technology to develop military capabilities.

“Therefore, we strongly urge you to reject any proposal by China to loosen existing restrictions on the export or other transfer of these sensitive US technologies,” the letter read. “Any such move would bolster China’s aggressive military modernization and significantly undermine long-term US national security interests.”

The members also cited Trump’s own National Security Strategy, which warned that China is attempting to develop military technologies that would be capable of challenging the US on the world stage.

“There can be no question that China seeks to surpass the US both economically and militarily and become the world’s foremost superpower, and neither the Federal Government nor private US companies should aid and abet that effort,” the letter read.

Mnuchin told a Senate panel on Tuesday that a loosening of export controls was not on the table.

“Export control items are absolutely not on the table for discussions, we would in no way look to loosen that,” Mnuchin said.

In addition to the concerns over export controls, the bipartisan group urged Trump officials to not back down on sanctions against Chinese telecom giant ZTE.

The Commerce Department recently block the company from obtaining US parts as a result of ZTE’s sale of goods into Iran and North Korea. Reports on Tuesday indicated that the administration was nearing a deal to modify the punishment.

Senators from both sides of the aisle warned that ZTE – which is part owned by the Chinese government – poses a national security risk, a fact agreed upon by many security officials.

“This is particularly critical when the violators are state-owned and -influenced, part and parcel of China’s policies and practices designed to strengthen its own national security innovation base, and essential tools of efforts to spread China’s influence in other countries that pose national security threats to the United States,” the letter read.

Trade talks between the Trump administration and the Chinese government are ongoing. A preliminary agreement reached Saturday contained few details, but Ross is expected to head to China in June to hash out a more complete agreement.