Home Government Tech Policy Dems, Rubio up in arms against Trump move to ease ZTE ban

Politicians in the US are up in arms over President Donald Trump's move to ease the seven-year export ban imposed on Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, characterising the company as a security threat and insisting they will not take a backward step on legislation putting curbs on the company.

Three Democrat senators wrote to Trump arguing that his move was a bad deal for American workers and for the security of the country, while Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida added his voice, warning against making a "terrible deal", according to reports from Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Trump announced a change of policy on ZTE on Sunday, tweeting that he had asked the Commerce Department, which imposed a seven-year export ban on the company in April, to help it "get back into business, fast".

He followed that up with a tweet on Monday, defending the change of policy and saying that ZTE bought a big percentage of the components it needed from US companies. In 2017, ZTE paid more than US$2.3 billion to 211 American suppliers.

The three Democrat Senators — Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — said in their letter that national security "must not be used as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations".

The US and China have been holding talks in order to try and head off a damaging trade war and are believed to nearing an agreement to give ZTE a reprieve. In return, Beijing is said to have agreed to remove tariffs on some US agricultural products.

The three Democrat Senators said in their letter: "Offering to trade American sanctions enforcement to promote jobs in China is plainly a bad deal for American workers and for the security of all Americans.

“Beyond appearing to risk American national security, the statement suggests that the administration is not serious about addressing the many economic challenges China presents. The devastating effects of China’s trade policies are clear.”

Rubio said in a tweet that replacing the ban on ZTE with a fine of between US$300 million or US$400 million was not a good deal.

"We have leverage to bring fairness back to relationship with #China whose other tech firms Tsinghua, Huawei, BBK, Yiomi (sic) & Lenovo rely on US chips as well," he added.

(Rubio was probably referring to smartphone maker Xiaomi when he wrote Yiomi.)

When the US Department of Commerce imposed the ban on ZTE, it said that it was due to alleged false statements made by the company during talks in 2016 over a charge of shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea.

As a penalty, US firms cannot sell parts to ZTE for seven years.

ZTE was fined US$1.19 billion in March 2017 and also agreed to a seven-year suspended export ban which would take effect if it was found to be in violation of the Export Administration Regulations.

Subsequently, the Department of Commerce claims to have found that statements made by ZTE to the Bureau of Industry and Security were false.

Australia's biggest telco Telstra has taken 22 ZTE devices off its shelves after the company said it was halting its main business activities in the US.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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