In our previous post, we discussed ZTE’s record penalty for selling technology with US-origin chips to North Korea and Iran, in violation of US trade laws. The company initially received a $1.19 billion in penalties and was ordered to reprimand the executives responsible for the malfeasance’s as a condition to re-enter the United States (US) market after a three-year suspension. Despite telling the US government that the guilty executives had been properly punished, it became clear that they were instead rewarded with bonuses. This violation triggered an automatic ban of ZTE from the US market for seven (7) years. As the 4th largest seller of cell phones to the US, the ban on ZTE serves as a means of protecting American production.
After the announcement, the ensuing backlash from Beijing, as well as trade talks in China, President Trump stated that he and Chinese president Xi Jiping are working together to bring ZTE “back into business”.
Now, the Trump administration threw a metaphorical lifeline to this tech giant, seemingly easing tensions with Beijing. Secretary Ross announced a $1.4 Billion dollar settlement with ZTE.
ZTE has agreed to severe additional penalties and compliance measures to replace the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) denial order imposed as a result of ZTE’s violations of its March 2017 settlement agreement. Under the new agreement, ZTE must pay $1 billion and place an additional $400 million in suspended penalty money in escrow before BIS will remove ZTE from the Denied Persons List. These penalties are in addition to the $892 million in penalties ZTE has already paid to the U.S government under the March 2017 settlement agreement.
The announcement of a deal stirred up controversy in Washington, due to the administration’s uncertain stance towards China. The deal provides ZTE the opportunity to buy American parts, so long as it complies with specific parameters. The US not only levied over 1 Billion in penalties against ZTE, but also placed $400 million in escrow, in the event it reneged on the deal. The agreement will be enforced by a handpicked US compliance team, which will serve at the US Commerce Department for the next decade. The team is tasked with overseeing ZTE’s replacement of its entire board of directors, as well as oversight of general compliance.
The conditions set on ZTE to reenter the US are the toughest sanctions ever to be placed on a public or private company. Although the move faced backlash in Washington, “analysts say the ban is likely to have cost ZTE billions of dollars in lost revenue, tarnished its brand and strained its relationships with customers around the world”. As one of the largest and most profitable companies in China, ZTE, touting over 160 corporate and governmental clients worldwide, plays a vital role in the China’s functioning.
The initial announcement of ZTE’s ban, included “Commodity, Software or Technology” products as items prohibited to be sold or exported to ZTE. Effectively, the ban would do more than just tarnish the brand, rather it would have potentially ended ZTE’s ability to function as a mobile electronics production company.
While seemingly gracious for the Chinese government and the Chinese economy, the deal sets a precedent that sanction violators may never face severe consequences. Although the company must pay over $1 Billion in penalties, it was granted a gift. Assuming that they work within the confines of the deal, the penalties will be a minuscule price to pay, while ZTE maintains its position and its prowess.