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US aims to hobble China’s chip industry with sweeping export rules

US aims to hobble China’s chip industry with sweeping export rules

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WASHINGTON: The Biden administration last Friday published a sweeping set of export controls, including a measure to cut China off from certain semiconductor chips made anywhere in the world with US equipment, vastly expanding its reach in its bid to slow Beijing’s technological and military advances.

The rules, some of which go into effect immediately, build on restrictions sent in letters earlier this year to top toolmakers KLA Corp, Lam Research Corp and Applied Materials Inc, effectively requiring them to halt shipments of equipment to wholly Chinese-owned factories producing advanced logic chips.

The raft of measures could amount to the biggest shift in US policy toward shipping technology to China since the 1990s.

If effective, they could hobble China’s chip manufacturing industry by forcing American and foreign companies that use US technology to cut off support for some of China’s leading factories and chip designers.

“This will set the Chinese back years,” said Jim Lewis, a technology and cybersecurity expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington DC-based think tank, who said the policies harken back to the tough regulations of the height of the Cold War.

“China isn’t going to give up on chipmaking but this will really slow them (down).”

In a briefing with reporters previewing the rules, senior government officials said many of the measures were aimed at preventing foreign firms from selling advanced chips to China or supplying Chinese firms with tools to make their own advanced chips.

They conceded, however, that they had not secured any promises that allied nations would implement similar measures and that discussions with those nations are ongoing.

“We recognise that the unilateral controls we’re putting into place will lose effectiveness over time if other countries don’t join us,” one official said.

“And we risk harming US technology leadership if foreign competitors are not subject to similar controls.”

The expansion of US powers to control exports to China of chips made with US tools is based on a broadening of the so-called foreign direct product rule.

It was previously expanded to give the US government authority to control exports of chips made overseas to Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and later to stop the flow of semiconductors to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

On Friday, the Biden administration applied the expanded restrictions to China’s IFLYTEK, Dahua Technology, and Megvii Technology, companies added to the entity list in 2019 over allegations they aided Beijing in the suppression of its Uyghur minority group.

The rules published on Friday also block shipments of a broad array of chips for use in Chinese supercomputing systems.

The rules define a supercomputer as any system with more than 100 petaflops of computing power within a floor space of 6,400 sq feet, a definition that two industry sources said could also hit some commercial data centres at Chinese tech giants.

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