Chinese smartphone maker ZTE is currently in a holding pattern after Commerce Department action last month blocked it from accessing US technology for seven years. President Trump has expressed his intention to lift that restriction, but it's unclear when or how that will happen. At a White House event with reporters, Trump has floated a hefty fine and management changes to restore ZTE's business.
This situation is the result of a US government investigation into ZTE's actions some years back. The company was accused of supplying technology to Iran in direct violation of US sanctions. ZTE settled the case in 2016 for a $1 billion fine and a promise that it would discipline the workers involved. The Commerce Department says it did not sufficiently scold employees, so it activated the technology ban last month.
ZTE has pledged to fight the ban, but it also suspended operations while it figures things out. The drama was kicked into overdrive earlier this month when Trump tweeted that he was working to reverse the ban. Apparently, the White House's current plan includes ZTE paying an additional $1.3 billion fine. It would also need to replace current management and get a new board of directors. Meanwhile, the Chinese government would have to reverse tariffs on US agriculture and pledge to buy more farm products from the US.
Congress, in a rare show of bipartisan support, has opposed Trump's position on ZTE. Legislators are working on bills that could block White House efforts to lift the restrictions. We're not done with the ZTE drama by a long shot.