Senate leaders have agreed to attach an amendment to a must-pass defense spending bill that would essentially kill the Trump administration’s agreement to end crippling sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp.
Senators Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., applauded the inclusion of their amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act responding to the national security threat posed by ZTE.
“ZTE has repeatedly violated U.S. law and represents a threat to our national security – Congress cannot and will not allow the Administration to let ZTE off the hook in the interest of Chinese jobs,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
He added, “I’m pleased that our bipartisan proposal will be included in the manager’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, and I appreciate my colleagues on both sides of the aisle working together to protect American interests and national security.”
The amendment would restore penalties on ZTE for violating export controls and prohibit government agencies from purchasing or leasing telecommunications equipment or services from the Chinese telecom giant.
The inclusion of the amendment in the NDAA comes just days after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced an agreement lifting an order that banned ZTE from buying American products.
The agreement included a $1 billion fine against ZTE and forced the company to replace its board of directors and executive team and install a U.S.-chosen compliance team.
Ross banned ZTE from buying Americans products in April, claiming the company made false statements about employee disciplinary actions related to the illegal shipping of telecom equipment to Iran and North Korea.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said including the amendment to undo the ZTE deal says “loudly and in a bipartisan fashion that the president is dead wrong to back off on ZTE.”
“The fact that a bipartisan group of senators came together this quickly is a testament to how bad the Trump administration’s ZTE deal is and how we will not shy away from holding the president’s feet to the fire when it comes to keeping his promise to be tough on China,” Schumer said.
The House previously passed its version of the defense bill without the ZTE language, meaning the two versions of the bill would need to be reconciled.
President Donald Trump, who has previously highlighted the fact that ZTE buys a tremendous amount of equipment from American companies, could still veto the bill.
However, Cotton argued that a presidential veto is unlikely, noting the NDAA includes “many other critical priorities.”
The agreement to lift the sanctions on ZTE was seen as part of an effort to reach a broader trade deal with China.