ZTE Sanction Analysis in Twitter

ZHANG Wenyi 17430313



On April 16th, American Commerce Department claimed that they would ban American companies from selling components to Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp for seven years. Because they found that, ZTE sold prohibited American electronics to Iran, and also made 283 shipments of microprocessors, servers and routers to North Korea.

ZTE agreed to plead guilty and pay $1.19 billion in fines, and the penalty is the largest fine in a United States sanctions cases.

Date retrieve:

I would like to choose people’s opinion on Twitter as my data source. Because in twitter, the U.S. President Trump frequently makes comments and posts message on Twitter, so for my project, people are more likely to discuss it on Twitter. And also in Twitter people can pay much more attention on some strangers, like celebrities, politicians and even some ordinary people, and people don’t need to care about how much interaction with others, just feel free to give speech and opinions.

When I looked through information about ZTE sanction in twitter, I found some hashtags are frequently used by people, like #tradewar, #ChinaBiz (biz is short for business). Then i collected data from twitter and checked the text, as a result, i found that the content with #tradewar are too complicated, it contains many tweets that not related to ZTE, though this banning action is the following case between the United States and China over trade war. Another hashtag is ChinaBiz also caught my attention, though this banning action will affect China business, there are still many people who are not concerned about this. So i choose #ZTE as the main hashtag for my project.


Topics in twitter with #ZTE are not only about sanctions, but also contain some commerce contents. For example, when I searched tweets with #ZTE, I found that there are many tweets talked about Nubia, it is a smart phone brand under ZTE, so some accounts would like to promote it and using this hashtag to increase tweets .

Literature review:

ZTE sanction was considered as the following case between the United States and China over trade war, so the tech industry is very likely to become the next battleground amid China-US tit-for-tat trade disputes. This issue needs to be part of negotiations between the Chinese and US governments, which are facing escalating trade tensions.

Challenges always carries abreast opportunities, when the United States prevented Intel from selling supercomputers to China many years ago, China developed its own supercomputer and now it has become the fastest computer in the world, so external pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. So one of my research questions is “Are people positive or negative towards American imposing sanctions on ZTE?”.

What’s more, social media provides us with a platform for accessing to information in our own willing, we can choose the news that we are interested in, but social media really as free as we have imagined? So my second research question is “ How the official media accounts influence on our opinion.

Academic sources:





Data collection:

I use Get Tags to collect the data, and choose 10 days, from 2018.4.45 to 2018.4.25, because this sanction case started from April 16th , so in the end I collected 4154 tweets that contains #ZTE in all languages.

Results of analysis:



I operated the data in tableau, there are some findings. In the graph of “user visibility”, the most active account is Yicai China(第一财经) , it is a Chinese official account which aimed to bring the latest on business, finance, economy, IT and TMT in China.

In the top7 accounts, 6 of them are Chinese official news accounts, like Global Times (China’s national English language newspaper, under the People’s Daily), China Daily, CGTN Arabic, People’s Daily. We can see that when it comes to international economic news, people are more likely to believe the speech of the official media accounts. Other social media account like Yuan Talks, also become one of the most recognized social media account focused on ZTE sanction.

In this case, KOL plays a slight effect on people, there are only one personal account in the top7.

But I also found something different, the fourth account is called CGTN Arabic, It is a Chinese television network which released news in Arabic. But as far as I know, this case has little connections with Arabs. I was confused that why this account been re-tweeted so many times and ranked third. So I operated the data to Gephi, and try to figure out the connections.

In the graph of user visibility, the most active account is an advertising account called Unlock_Client, I look through this account and found that there are little tweets are related to ZTE news, it just use the #ZTE and rub this topic’s heat. The following accounts expect Yicai China, are also the same, so that is why the tweets so many, but hardly been re-tweeted.



I operated the data in Gephi, and got the visualization. When I get the Tableau visualization, I was confused that why the account of CGTN Arabic released the ZTE news and been re-tweeted so many times and ranked third. Actually from the Gephi image, people who re-tweeted the tweets from CGTN Arabic have no relation with other accounts. In this case, ZTE break sanctions for selling electronics to Iran and North Korea , not to Arab, why the most tweets are from CGTN Arabic.

Then I searched it in the internet, and found that ZTE once participated in the Arab Telecom and Internet Forum as a main sponsor, so ZTE is very popular in Arab, I guess maybe that’s why CGTN Arabic released so many news of ZTE.

For other tweets accounts, most of them are media organizations, so there are many connections among them. China Daily seems that have more contact with other accounts, but the two biggest accounts, Yicai China and Global Times have no connections.

We also can see how did the information flows. For this event, tweets are mainly from media organizations to normal people, hardly from key opinion leaders.

Because some people believe that this banning action is the following case between the United States and China over trade war, so I also analysis the tweets with #TradeWar, and I found something different.


It is not hard to see that KOL is the main communicator of the information, most of the official media accounts are not involved in this topic. I think the reasons are as following:

Firstly, When referring to the trade war between China and the US, most of the people have only a very abstract concept in their mind. They only know that Trump increases tariffs and it will have an impact on our prices, but what specific impacts will occur to our life is very ambiguous. So people will pay more attention to the opinions and comments of KOL in social media, instead of the official news from official media accounts.

Secondly, most people believe that the ZTE sanctions were considered to be the first wave of U.S. challenges to China in the trade war, at this time, the trade war is no longer a name, it had a specific initiative. Then people began to pay attention to the official media accounts to understand the progress of this case, and want to see the attitude of the country. So, when we searched tweets with #TradeWar, KOL had the greatest impact on people, and when we searched tweets with #ZTE, the official media had the greatest impact on us.



Then I used voyant tools to retrieve data. There are several dimensions, and I will choose the big three to explain.

In the first dimension, we can see the content is mostly about commerce, selling, component, Nubia (Nubia is a a smart phone brand under ZTE), so in this dimension people may more focus on the commerce effect. This group of people pay more attention on the sales of ZTE after being banned from America.

In the second dimension, most frequency words are Trump, statues and China, so these people talked more about the international status. They are more concerned with whether the United States used ZTE sanctions to suppress the rise of China’s international status and whether this matter has an impact on the international status of China and the United States.

In the third dimension, content is mostly about Yicai China, ZTE press, trade war, global, people in this dimension talked more about trade war and the following impact on the world.

Content analysis:

What do people think about the ZTE sanctions? Do they support, oppose or maintain neutrality? I want to figure out people’s attitude towards American imposing sanctions on ZTE, so i coded around 250 tweets, and analysis these text.

People’s attitude are very obvious.

For example, Global Times said“The US Department of Commerce banning US firms from selling components to China’s #ZTE serves as a strong push, which makes Chinese society increasingly wary of the US and furthered China’s decision to develop its own semiconductor technology”. This account believe that ZTE sanctions can stimulate the development of China’s high-tech industry, so the attitude towards ZTE sanction is positive.

On the contrary, China Daily USA hold the obvious negative attitude that the US ban on sales to #ZTE has caused market and worries about the investment environment in the US. Job opportunities to be hit, related businesses will also be affected.

And some people just simply relay the facts, like: “China commerce ministry says hopes US can appropriately deal with issue on ZTE in accordance with laws and rules. ZTE agreed to civil, criminal penalty and forfeiture of $1.19B for shipping banned telecoms equipment to Iran and NorthKorea.

The result is as following:


From the results of content analysis, Most people maintain a neutral and negative attitude. Only a few people think that the ZTE sanctions can have a good impact on their lives.


1、In social media, the official media account and KOL play different roles in different events, and the influence is various.

Two-Step Flow of Communication theory asserts that ideas flow from the mass media to KOL and then to the greater public. These leaders take in the media’s information, and explain and spread the media’s messages to others.

When talking about news events with somewhat abstract concepts such as the trade war, people will be more inclined to listen to KOL and generate their own opinions.

When certain policies affect people’s specific lives, the mainstream media in social media begin to guide public opinion, attempting to explain events from an official perspective and avoid unnecessary consequences.

2、In the case of the ZTE sanctions, most of the people do not think this action can bring them positive impact, and this impact it brought to China is still great.

We can conclude that in recent years, with the rapid development of China’s semiconductor industry, the self-sufficiency rate of Chinese chips has been greatly improved, but China’s semiconductor industry still faces many difficulties.


Chen Qingqing, Global Times Published.(2018). US export restriction to spur China’s chipmakers.

Liu Xin Source, Global Times Published.(2018). Online media should spread positive message: Xi

Monica Postelnicu,Two-step flow model of communication

David A. Andelman,(2018), Trump’s new tariffs may blow up NAFTA