Trump tries loosening ZTE sanctions
(but House committee heads him off)

On April 16th, the U.S. Commerce Department announced sanctions on the Chinese corporation ZTE, effective for 7 years. The sanctions were in response to the company’s violations of U.S. restrictions on trade with Iran and North Korea. The telecommunications company — the second-largest in China, according to the New York Times  — had previously agreed to a $1.9 billion fine payment in 2017 for the same violations.

Because most ZTE phones use parts from American companies such as Qualcomm, the new U.S. sanctions would be heavily impacting both the huge multinational company and the Chinese economy. But these sanctions were expected not to last long, as U.S. President Donald Trump took to twitter on Sunday, May 13th to announce a possible ease in restrictions on ZTE.

Trump tweeted his intention to help ZTE “get back into business, fast” as the sanctions would cost “too many jobs in China.” Trump claimed the move would help with his “larger trade deal” with China, as well as his “personal relationship with President Xi [Jinping].”

But Trump’s sudden move also had many politicians expressing concern about possible threats to national security that such leniency with a foreign telecom company such as ZTE could bring.

“We at the FBI remain deeply concerned that any company beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values are not companies that we want to be gaining positions of power inside our telecommunications network,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday. “That gives them the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information, that gives them the capacity to conduct undetected espionage, that gives them the capacity to exert pressure or control.”

The backtrack by Trump keeps the U.S. in favor with China, but risks turning a blind eye to corruption in foreign corporations, and it creates a double-standard for some countries with favored trade status. The decision also seems to contradict Trump’s “America First” mantra, prioritizing the needs of another country over America’s critical national security concerns.

In fact, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee was sufficiently concerned that on Thursday it passed an amendment to an appropriations bill that reinforced the earlier ZTE sanctions — making it impossible for Trump’s Commerce Department to reconsider them.


by Mariana Lopez (Los Angeles, CA)

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