The Trump Administration's newly released Africa Strategy is likely to bring greater anti-corruption enforcement, particularly against Chinese state-owned and private firms, as well as against African officials, and African and third country private parties. Extractives industries, particularly involving nonfuel minerals like cobalt, are likely to be of particular interest.
The ZTE case puts into focus the Trump Administration’s apparent strategy to use U.S. sanctions, along with anti-corruption and anti-money laundering laws, as trade war weapons, specifically as “economic tools” and “tools of economic diplomacy” that “can be important parts of broader strategies to deter, coerce, and constrain adversaries.”
The sentiments expressed by Senator Rubio and others reflect commercial, competition, policy, and strategic concerns held by business, policy makers, defense and national security officials, and others about China and Chinese firms like ZTE and Huawei. But when raised in the context of and as a justification for a specific legal enforcement action, the sentiments blur the lines between what should primarily be an enforcement based on facts and applicable laws, rather than an instrument for advancing wider policy objectives that are not specifically advanced by the laws applicable to the conduct for which ZTE was penalized. And, while Secretary Ross' stated rationale to impose the harsher penalty to change ZTE's behavior may have been sound, the recommendation of the career professionals with expertise in sanctions and export controls enforcement should, perhaps, have carried the day. Secretary Ross' description of the process leading to the export ban and the mess that has followed it give more reason to ask whether, in the first place, the export ban was the appropriate remedy as a matter of applicable laws and the objectives served by them.
Much of the talk of trade war between the United States and China, and perhaps other countries, has focused on traditional trade measures and counter-measures like tariffs that strike at the core of international trade: most basically, the movement of goods and services across international borders. But there are two additional fronts of a U.S.-China trade war (thus far): intellectual property and the use of U.S. sanctions and other laws to "coerce and deter" economic rivals like China.