But the more moderate approach also stems from the more market-friendly views of two of Trump's trusted advisers, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, who heads the National Economic Council. He's charged with many things.
Trump's tweet Sunday that he was working with President Xi Jinping of China to put ZTE "back into business, fast" after USA sanctions threatened ZTE's existence and 70,000 Chinese jobs caught many trade-watchers by surprise. He told Axios there's a "little bit of a bromance" between the two, reiterating that the Trump administration wants to avoid a full-fledged trade war with China.
He added that he hoped Republicans on the Oversight Committee would look into this situation and make sure no ethical boundaries are being crossed.
Although Xi pulls the strings, Liu, the point man for the trade talks, is the obvious target to blame if negotiations go badly and tensions escalate sufficiently to damage the economy or even leave China in technological isolation.
The talks are hung up on Washington's demands to increase the US -made components in vehicles that receive duty-free status in NAFTA and the clock is running out. "Creating jobs in China is not one of them".
In response, China threatened to impose tariffs on an equal amount of U.S. exports, including agricultural products from Trump's political heartland.
Brock Silvers, managing director of Kaiyuan Capital, a Shanghai-based investment advisory firm, said: "The real aim [of China's deleveraging campaign] is the reduction of risk to the state via tighter control over access to capital".
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Speaking at an event hosted by Axios, Kudlow said he saw the odds of the U.S., Canada and Mexico agreeing on a new Nafta deal at a slim 51-49.
Early last month the trade row intensified with both countries issuing details on further tariffs and with the food industry again caught in the crossfire.
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"ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from US companies", he said. An irate President Xi of China, guided by his foremost economic advisor has asked for the lifting of the seven year embargo on the phone company before proceeding further.
The Trump administration threatened ZTE's existence as a business last month, when the Commerce Department ordered the seven-year halt in USA shipments of computer microchips and software at the heart of most of ZTE's gear. "But be cool, it will all work out!"
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last month accused ZTE of misleading the department and warned, "This egregious behavior can not be ignored".
The U.S. imposed the penalty on Shenzhen-based ZTE after discovering that the company, which had paid a $1.2 billion fine in the case, had failed to discipline employees involved and paid them bonuses instead.
But Democratic lawmaker Adam Schiff cautioned against being too soft on the company, saying on Twitter: "Our intelligence agencies have warned that ZTE technology and phones pose a major cyber security threat". "Let's give President Trump credit and assume he has demanded more".