US Senate votes 85-10 against Trump’s ZTE settlement
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US Senate votes 85-10 against Trump’s ZTE settlement

The US Senate has voted 85 to 10 to reinstate the ban on US companies supplying ZTE with hardware and software.

Their action – by carrying an amendment to a defence bill going through Congress – means they have potentially overturned President Donald Trump’s settlement of the dispute with ZTE.

The Department of Commerce (DoC) placed a denial order on ZTE in April as a punishment for supplying Iran and North Korea with equipment that illegally included US components.

After Trump’s intervention, at the beginning of the month ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and accepted other penalties in order to get back in business. Now the Senate’s action means the company may close down again.

The amendment was to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019, now being debated in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House has yet to debate the amendment.

Four senators – two from each party – last night welcomed the move. “We’re heartened that both parties made it clear that protecting American jobs and national security must come first when making deals with countries like China, which has a history of having little regard for either,” they said. “It is vital that our colleagues in the House keep this bipartisan provision in the bill as it heads towards a conference.”

The signatories of that statement included a Democrat Senator for the state of New York, Chuck Shumer, who said in yesterday’s debate: “One of the most concerning issues is the decision by the Trump administration last week to reduce the harsh penalties previously imposed and then to provide relief to the Chinese telecom giant ZTE, lifting restrictions on the company and allowing it to continue to sell its products in the United States.”

Shumer said: “ZTE was guilty of evading US sanctions on Iran and North Korea and then lying to US officials about it afterward.”

He claimed: “It seems the administration was outmanoeuvred by the Chinese on ZTE once again. Congress should reverse what the administration has done by reinstituting the hard penalties on ZTE, and we should do it on the NDAA bill that will be on the floor this week.”

He said that this is “precisely related” to defence because “cyber security experts, national security experts, principal government agencies, the Republican-led FCC, the Republican-led FBI, and the Republican-led Pentagon have all deemed the sale of ZTE products in the United States a national security threat”.

The senator added: “Even if they hadn’t violated sanctions and even if they hadn’t lied about it, they shouldn’t be here. This gives the Chinese Government – which in many ways takes advantage of the United States militarily and economically and is spying on us by cyber warfare – a great opportunity to get right inside all of our communications.”

According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Trump is due to mean Republican senators today in an attempt to find a way for ZTE to resume business.

House of Representatives and the Senate will need to coordinate their versions of the NDAA before the act is passed into law. Trump will have only two options: sign it, even with the anti-ZTE clauses if they survive the coordination, or veto it, which will leave the US military without funds for the next fiscal year.

Shumer called the $1 billion fine on ZTE “as weak as a wet noodle”. He urged fellow senators “to reverse the agreement made by the administration and prevent it from being able to provide ZTE relief for at least a year”.

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