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ZTE is officially alive again as US lifts 'death-penalty' ban

All it took was an extra $400 million.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

ZTE is finally, officially free of the crippling US ban that threatened to sink the entire Chinese telecom company. It's been a long, painstaking process, but the US Department of Commerce announced Friday that the company has deposited the final $400 million in an escrow account -- and so the ban is lifted.

That $400 million, which will be held to cover future violations, was the last item ZTE had to provide to satisfy the US government -- the company's paying a total of $1.4 billion this time around, on top of $892 million in penalties from a separate March 2017 agreement with the US government.

It marked the last step by ZTE to regaining some level of normalcy after a Commerce Department ban that restricted US businesses from working with the company, causing it to shut down "all major operations." Outside observers referred to the ban as a "death penalty" because it prevented ZTE from getting core components from companies like Qualcomm or Broadcom, as well as key parts of Google's Android platform, including Google Play. 

"While we lifted the ban on ZTE, the department will remain vigilant as we closely monitor ZTE's actions to ensure compliance with all US laws and regulations," said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a press release announcing the news.

The Commerce Department originally settled with ZTE after the company was found selling equipment with US technology to Iran and Korea, and the most most recent ban came when ZTE had failed to properly punish all of the employees involved. The company was seemingly dead in the water until President Donald Trump tweeted his support of ZTE and said he would press the Commerce Department to reverse the ban. 

His actions have elicited criticism from members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who cite security concerns for why the ban should remain in place. Both Huawei and ZTE have long been dogged with concerns that the companies are too close to the Chinese government. 

Unlike Huawei, ZTE is among the most successful Chinese phone makers in the US, ranking No. 4 by market share thanks to a portfolio of budget phones largely for prepaid carriers. 

ZTE declined to comment. Spokesmen for the White House weren't immediately available for comment. 

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