Update: ZTE has reached out to us with a statement on the sanction relief extension granted by the US Commerce Department:
“ZTE continues to work with the US government toward permanent removal from the Entity List. Under the new leadership, ZTE is conducting our business in a way that meets and exceeds export compliance standards. The extension of the TGL is a sign of the progress we have made. We will continue our significant spending with US technology suppliers and our support of more than 129,000 high tech jobs with US companies."
End of Update
On Thursday, the US Commerce Department announced that they had once again extended the sanction relief on ZTE. This time extending it to March 29th. The previous extension was set to expire on February 27th. This is also a much shorter extension than the Commerce Department would normally hand out, and has handed out to ZTE before. This is part of the probe that revealed ZTE was still exporting products to Iran, despite the sanctions that the US had put against Iran. This extension is going to allow ZTE to resolve the probe and figure out how to continue their business (even in Iran) while still playing by the rules of the government.
With this reprieve window being a bit smaller than the normal 90 day window, it's leading some attorneys to think that this could be due to the new administration. As Douglas Jacobson, a Washington attorney noted this "indicates the final settlement is imminent or is just a stopgap to give the new administration time to decide how they want to proceed." With the Trump Administration only being in office for a little over a month at this point. So this is more than likely a way for the new administration to get their people in office and figure out what to do next.
Earlier this month, ZTE said that they were working with the appropriate regulators to get the issue resolved so that they can continue business as usual in both countries. ZTE relies on some of the biggest companies in the US to get their products to consumers. Like Google, Qualcomm and Microsoft. Qualcomm makes the processors and modems in their smartphones while Google and Microsoft are on the operating system side of things for ZTE. And working with those other companies is what has really made ZTE suffer, because nothing with Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft or any US company, inside it can be shipped on over to Iran because of these sanctions. But it appears that ZTE has been doing this since 2012, so this isn't something new from ZTE, but they have been caught and are now trying to resolve the issue with the government.