China's No. 2 telecommunications equipment maker ZTE secured a lifeline from the Trump administration on Thursday after agreeing to pay a $1 billion fine and overhaul leadership in a deal that will lift a ban on its doing business with USA suppliers.
ZTE has promised to replace its board and executive team as part of the deal.
Mr. Trump appears to be using ZTE's punishment as a bargaining chip in negotiations with China, rather than a matter of law enforcement.
According to Reuters, ZTE has signed a preliminary agreement that will lift the ban on United States companies providing ZTE with goods.
The US originally placed sanctions on ZTE for selling goods with US parts into Iran and North Korea, a violation of sanctions against those countries.
Eric Altbach, a former deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative who spent years negotiating with the Chinese, said the U.S. may have agreed to go easier on ZTE in exchange for China approving an American company's acquisition of a Chinese firm.
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Several U.S. chipmakers, including Qualcomm and Intel, count ZTE as a customer.
■ ZTE must pay a $1 billion fine plus $400 million in escrow to cover "any future violations". The decision amounted to a death sentence to ZTE, which relies on US parts and which announced that it was halting operations.
US Secretary of State for Commerce Wilbur Ross told CNBC: "If they do violate it again, in addition to the billion dollars they are paying us up front, we had them put $400m in escrow".
The telecommunications equipment maker has been on life support since a seven-year USA ban was imposed in April, breaking a 2017 agreement reached after it was caught illegally shipping goods to Iran and North Korea. US President Donald Trump came under criticism for announcing last month that he would reverse the ban, with some lawmakers warning that payments do not address security concerns over Chinese telecommunications equipment.
"President Trump should be aiming his trade fire at China, but instead he inexplicably aims it at allies like Canada, Mexico and Europe".
ZTE also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Now, though, Reuters is reporting that a deal has been negotiated that would allow ZTE to get back in business with the export ban behind them, but with some big changes. Both companies' share prices rose Thursday, with NXP up more than 6 percent in midday trading. "No decision has been reached by both sides as of now", Kudlow told reporters.