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China ZTE bank: Congress shrugs off after Trump cave

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Trump Xi
President
Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago
state in Palm Beach, Florida.

Reuters/Carlos Barria

  • The annual must-pass defense bill’s final product will
    not include a full ban on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE,
    but will instead block them from contracts with the US
    government.
  • While the move was seen as a major concession to Trump
    and China, the softened language in the bill is unlikely to
    imperil its chances of passing.

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were very
concerned about the nefarious Chinese smartphone maker ZTE ever
since the Trump administration decided to begin easing the
punishments levied on the company for violating US sanctions.

But when the conference committee tasked with hashing out the
House and Senate differences in the annual National Defense
Authorization Act
eased back
on what was previously considered a key national
security concern, lawmakers gave a collective groan at the major
concession to President Donald Trump.

Now, they are likely moving on without a fuss.

The original language passed by the Senate in June included a
full ban on sales for ZTE. Late last week, the conference
committee went in another direction, changing language in the
legislation to only ban ZTE from contracts with the US
government.

A handful of lawmakers lamented the move, saying Trump and
Republicans were letting the Chinese skate free.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that
Republicans chose to fold and cravenly sell out America’s
workers and national security.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been one of the most
critical of ZTE, seemed baffled at Republicans’ leniency on the
telecommunications giant.

“I don’t understand,” Rubio said during an appearance on
CNN. “If we know for a fact that no country in the world
spies on us more than China does, no country in the
world steals intellectual property from us more than
China does, and they used their telecommunications
companies to do it, installing back doors into routers,
all sorts of things, why we would allow them to remain
in business in the United States?”

“So that’s why knowing that and knowing what my
colleagues know about 

ZTE
,
I don’t understand why they would give in so easily, so
quickly and cave on something that would have put them
out of business by denying them access to U.S.
semiconductors,” he added.

‘What we’ll see is how China responds’

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, told
Business Insider that the lenient ZTE ban is about trade more
than national security and that “we got 

to get
some W’s on the board when it comes to trade
negotiations.”

But Graham did not dismiss the security concerns, even
though China has been afforded a lot more breathing room than the
previous language allowed.

“What we’ll see is how China responds,” Graham said. “We’ll
see if they do something that’s inconsistent with a sort of a
second chance they’ve got, I think no matter what President Trump
says we’ll come down hard.”

The general feeling from staffers on Capitol Hill is that
the watered down ban for ZTE is not likely to be a hurdle for the
bill’s passage. The bill is a must-pass piece of legislation and
is full of other major components relating to national security
and defense.

Simply, a bill this big has too many other things that will
make lawmakers will want to vote for it, even if it goes easy on
a company closely aligned with the Chinese government’s
intelligence agency.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on the Armed Services
Committee, essentially told Business Insider as much.


That’s unfortunate,” Kaine said of the
softened ZTE language. 

“I mean, I signed the
conference report. I think there’s a lot of good in it. But I
think that’s unfortunate.”

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