While in office, President Donald Trump has continued to carve out a unique global policy path for himself. That carving brought him to recently decide to ease sanctions on the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, which had previously been penalized for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
It was on Thursday that the Trump administration formally announced their plans for doing away with sanctions on ZTE, and also on Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators unveiled their own plan for reimposing those sanctions. The plan comes in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Debate that will include amendments to the NDAA is expected to begin early next week, Roll Call reports.
The particular amendment in question that would restore sanctions on ZTE is supported by an as previously mentioned strikingly bipartisan group of legislators including Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Also on board are Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Commenting on the odd and perhaps unfamiliar coupling, Schumer quipped while speaking on the Senate floor Thursday:
‘Sen. Cotton and Sen. Van Hollen don’t agree on much, but thank God when it comes to national security, they’re agreeing.’
What all of the Senators want to do is hold back ZTE, because it’s not as though concerns about the company — along with similarly grouped company Huawei — end with a simple oversight that led them to do business with North Korea and Iran. The companies are, rather, seen as national security threats because of the fact that they’re perceived as vulnerable to being compelled by the Chinese government to have their devices be a part of an espionage program targeting the United States.
Thus, the Senators want ZTE and Huawei to remain forbidden from doing business with American companies. Senators had already been working on keeping the government itself from doing business with ZTE and Huawei; because of concerns about espionage capabilities, the Department of Defense prohibited such devices from being sold on military bases — and yet, the Trump administration has proceeded with being open to letting the company advance anyway.
To be sure, the Trump administration has tried to maintain an about face when it comes to the whole ordeal. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross insisted:
‘We will closely monitor ZTE’s behavior. If they commit any further violations, we would again be able to deny them access to U.S. technology.’
The cascade of developments comes after an abrupt policy shift led by a tweet from President Trump himself. Although he’s maintained an aggressive stance when it comes to the vast majority of foreign trade issues, on May 13, he wrote on Twitter:
‘President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost.’
Now, we are at the present point, where that deal the president wished for has been accomplished. Whether the involvement of a bipartisan group of leading U.S. Senators in the effort to get the just lifted sanctions reimposed will be enough to get it to a vote — and then get it to pass — remains to be seen.
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