Hill Bill Backstopping ZTE Deal Reintroduced

A bipartisan group of senators has reintroduced a bill, the ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight (ZERO) Act, that would put congressional muscle behind the conditions on the deal struck by the Trump Administration with Chinese Telecom ZTE that lifted a ban on U.S. exports to the company.

The conditions for lifting the ban included "high level security guarantees, change of management and board, an actual requirement to purchase U.S. parts, and a $1.3 billion fine."

The Commerce Department had instituted the ban citing ZTE noncompliance with an earlier agreement, but after talking with China's president and apparently being concerned about the ban's impact on Chinese jobs, President Trump directed Commerce to find a way to lift the ban, which they did subject to payments and guarantees from ZTE. 

But many members of Congress were concerned about lifting the ban given the agreement by U.S. intelligence officials that ZTE was a security threat due to its ties to the Chinese government. The result was the ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight (ZERO) Act, which was introduced in the last Congress and is now making a comeback.

The legislators say the bill is meant to ensure that if Commerce can't "regularly certify ZTE’s full compliance with the deal and with relevant U.S. export controls and sanctions laws," the ban's "crippling punishments" will be reimposed. 

Among those leading the effort to keep ZTE in check has been Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). "China’s communist government continues to threaten our national security interests through state-directed actors and, while it was a mistake to strike a ‘deal’ with ZTE in the first place, this bill would ensure ZTE is held accountable if and when it cheats again," Rubio said.

A separate bill has been introduced that would reimpose that ban.

Joining Rubio in reintroducing the bill were Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) (he backs the bill reimposing the ban, so he is hedging his bet), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.