On Sunday, US President Donald Trump announced he would work with Chinese President Xi Jinping to help relieve telecoms manufacturer ZTE of its imports ban and had instructed the Commerce Department to “get it done!” On Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that he was looking into “alternative remedies” to punishing ZTE for trade sanction violations.
The executive branch seems interested in playing ball with China as its entanglements in trade continue to be negotiated. But over in the legislative branch, Reuters reports that the reaction has been strongly negative. Congressional subcommittees have been warning businesses and consumers from procuring telecommunications equipment from Chinese firms like ZTE to combat against the perceived censorship and hacking threat from Beijing.
“They are basically conducting an all-out assault to steal what we’ve already developed and use it as the baseline for their development so they can supplant us as the leader in the most important technologies of the 21st century,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, at a hearing on Asia policy.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has also expressed deep concern about rampant intellectual property theft by Chinese actors during the confirmation of the National Counterintelligence Director.
.@realDonaldTrump’s comments about ZTE sound an alarm bell for counterintelligence, cyber security, & red, white and blue jobs. His own top counterintelligence official said ZTE threatens U.S. national security. In my view, giving sanctions relief to ZTE is a big mistake. pic.twitter.com/4hnaOP4dKo
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) May 15, 2018
Wyden is a member of the Intelligence Committee and Senate Finance Committee.
In the House, Republican Representative Mac Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee doubted that Congress will remove a Defense Department moratorium on ZTE products based on Trump’s decision.
“I confess I don’t fully understand the administration’s take on this at this point. It is not a question to me of economics, it is a question of security,” Thornberry said.
ZTE stated that it has stopped major operations because of the 7-year-ban on importing American products. It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of components that the company uses are sourced from United States companies.