The US has placed Chinese groups accused of building supercomputers to help the Chinese military on an export blacklist, the first such move by the Biden administration to make it harder for China to obtain US technology.
Three companies and four branches of China’s National Supercomputing Center were added to the US government “entity list”, which bars American companies from exporting technology to the groups without a licence.
The US commerce department said the groups were involved in building supercomputers used by Chinese “military actors” and facilitating programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.
“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many — perhaps almost all — modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” said Gina Raimondo, the US commerce secretary.
Raimondo said the Biden administration would “use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging US technologies to support these destabilising military modernisation efforts”.
The Chinese entities are Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics and the National Supercomputing Center branches.
The US is increasingly concerned about China gaining access to American technology that helps the People’s Liberation Army close the gap with the US military and field weapons that could alter the balance of military power in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Washington Post this week said Phytium designed semiconductors using US technology to power supercomputers being employed to develop hypersonic missiles, which are hard to detect because of their speed.
The newspaper said Phytium used technology from Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys. The US move on Thursday would make it much harder for the two California-based companies to provide services and products to the Chinese firms. But it would not bar them from supplying the Chinese groups if that technology were produced in facilities outside of the US.
The Washington Post said Phytium outsourced the manufacturing of its chips to TSMC, the Taiwanese company that has become the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturer.
The Financial Times previously reported that the Trump administration had pressed the Taiwanese government to restrict TSMC from producing chips for Huawei, which it said were being used in Chinese missiles that could be deployed in a potential attack on Taiwan.
The move to place the Chinese groups on the entity list would not impact the ability of TSMC to supply them with semiconductors.
The Trump administration had put dozens of Chinese companies on the entity list, including Huawei, the telecoms equipment company, It also targeted Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation and DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone maker.
The Biden administration is reviewing dozens of China-related actions that Donald Trump took in his last year in office, including an order that prohibits Americans from investing in Chinese companies that the Pentagon says help the People’s Liberation Army. The US is also talking to allies in Asia and Europe to try to find ways to co-ordinate export controls
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