Congress is abandoning an effort to clamp down on the Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp (中興通訊) in a defense bill, essentially green-lighting a deal by US President Donald Trump’s administration to save a company that was accused of selling sensitive information to hostile regimes, aides said on Friday.
Senators from both parties on Friday expressed outrage that the revised defense legislation, which is to be unveiled early next week, guts a provision to reinstate penalties and restrict the Chinese company’s ability to buy US parts.
ZTE was almost forced out of business after being accused of selling sensitive information to Iran and North Korea, in violation of trade laws.
Senator Marco Rubio, an architect of the anti-ZTE language in the defense bill, said on Twitter that he was surprised that US House of Representatives and Senate leaders negotiating the compromise “caved so easily.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner called the outcome “a huge mistake.”
“Beyond frustrated that Republican leaders are caving to the Trump Administration’s demands on ZTE. This can only make our country less safe,” he tweeted.
Both lawmakers are members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and have raised concerns about the Chinese company and the White House’s approach to it.
Congress was pressured by the White House to yield, with the administration making clear to lawmakers that it viewed the language as tying its hands, a source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Republican-controlled Senate tucked the ZTE language into the annual defense bill this summer, delivering a rare rebuke of the White House after it eased up on the telecom company.
While the House version of the defense bill blocked US government purchases and contracting with ZTE, the Senate version went further, reinstating penalties on the company and blocking export provisions.
An aide said the group of House and Senate lawmakers who were appointed to negotiate a compromise between the two bills thought the Senate went too far in inserting Congress into the administration’s decisionmaking.
House Committee on Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry viewed it as a separation of power issue.
The aide was granted anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the talks.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said that the outcome was another example of Trump “being weak” toward foreign leaders “while Republicans just follow along.”
The US Department of Commerce in April barred ZTE from importing US components for seven years after concluding that the company deceived US regulators after settling charges of sanctions violations last year.
The company quickly announced that it was halting operations, but the US and China last month reached a deal that allows ZTE to stay in business in exchange for paying an additional US$1 billion in fines and agreeing to let US regulators monitor its operations.
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