Photo: AFP/Johannes Eisele
Photo: AFP/Johannes Eisele

The Trump administration has officially announced a deal to commute a death sentence handed Chinese telecoms giant ZTE, softening penalties that analysts said would have killed the company.

The smartphone and telecommunications equipment maker will have to pay a record-breaking fine – totaling in the ballpark of US$2.3 billion when combined with previous penalties – but a crippling ban on sales of US components to the firm will be lifted.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the deal on Thursday. Pushing back on criticism that the leniency was unwarranted, Ross stressed that US authorities “still retain the authority to shut them down again.”

In addition to the fine, the Chinese firm was forced to shake up management and has agreed to allow US compliance officers to be placed inside the firm.

There was immediate pushback from US lawmakers, who introduced legislation Thursday that would override such a deal. An amendment proposed by a bipartisan group of senators would be part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is considered “must-pass” legislation.

It is unclear, however, whether such an amendment would make it to the Senate floor for a vote, as Republican members of Congress have rarely challenged Trump administration policy.

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