GOP lawmaker: Trump’s ZTE deal ‘put a price tag on national security'
President Trump’s decision to ease sanctions on a Chinese tech company was tantamount to putting a "price tag on national security,” according to a Republican lawmaker.
“I don't agree with the administration on the ZTE [decision],” Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, who chairs the foreign affairs subcommittee for the Asia-Pacific region, told the Washington Examiner in a phone interview.
“They were deemed a national security threat in 2012 by the [House] intelligence committee,” he continued. “I wouldn't put a price tag on national security as far as, they gave us $1.3 billion in [fines], they're still going to do business.”
Trump fined ZTE, a major Chinese telecommunications company, $1.3 billion for helping North Korea and Iran evade U.S. sanctions, a sin compounded by lying to federal authorities. ZTE also agreed to provide “high-level security guarantees” and change its corporate leadership. But that penalty was less than what the government originally planned to do, which was to bar the company from purchasing parts and technology from U.S. companies.
The decision to reduce the penalties drew criticism from numerous Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“The difference of opinion there is between a view that ZTE is a company that broke our sanctions law and we are going to impose on them a punishment more severe than they've ever faced anywhere in the world,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told the Washington Examiner. “And if that's all it was, if this was just a company that broke the law, then I would be fine with the punishment that they've talked about doing.”
But U.S. officials also regard ZTE as an asset for Chinese intelligence services, a major player in an issue that is drawing renewed focus across the federal government. The Federal Communications Commission is discouraging the U.S. telecommunications industry from purchasing Chinese technology, citing the risk of “hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches.” The Defense Department likewise decided to stop selling phones made by ZTE and Huawei, another major Chinese company, on military bases.
“I view it broadly [as part of] Chinese plans to overtake and surpass the United States as the preeminent global power and to do so through theft, and deception, and the forced transfer of intellectual property,” Rubio said. “And in particular, how they use the telecommunications industry to achieve dominance, not just in that industry but others. ... In my mind, we should be sanctioning ZTE whether they had violated the sanctions or not.”
Yoho noted that the House Intelligence Committee branded ZTE a threat in 2012. “I feel they still are a national security threat,” he said. “I don't think any price can be paid for national security.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former lawmaker who served on the intelligence panel when the committee released its report on ZTE, defended the administration’s deliberations on ZTE in the days leading up the revision of the penalty.
“We’re going to reduce the risk from ZTE to America,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “You should note nothing was done in now almost six years this administration is going to do something. We’re still working on the appropriate response and how to address it, but it’s worth noting that for six years, mostly under the previous administration, nothing was done. This administration is going to do something.”