‘An Act of War’: Inside America’s Silicon Blockade Against China

The Biden administration aims to block China from the future of chip technology by squeezing the industry’s natural choke point. The impact would not only impede China’s military progress, but also threaten its economic growth and scientific leadership. “We said there are key areas of technology that China should not enter,” says Emily Kilkreath, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former US trade official. “And they just so happen to be the areas that will drive future economic growth and development.” Today, scientific advances are made not by trial-and-error experiments, but by running simulations and analyzing vast amounts of data. often be Simulations are used to discover new life-saving drugs, model the future of climate change, investigate the behavior of colliding galaxies, and even the physics of hypersonic missiles and nuclear explosions.

“People with the best supercomputers can do the best science,” Jack Dongarra, founding director of the University of Tennessee Institute for Innovative Computing, told me. Dongara is running a program called top 500, which provides the ranking of the world’s fastest supercomputers twice a year. As of June, China claims 134 slots, while the US has 150. But the big picture is incomplete. Around 2020, China’s quota plummeted, suggesting Donggala’s desire to avoid unwanted attention. Rumors of new supercomputers leak out in scientific papers and research presentations, leaving observers to speculate on the true state of the competition and the magnitude of China’s probable lead. “This is surprising because in 2001 there were no computers on the list in China,” says Dongara. “Now they’ve grown to rule the world.”

But behind China’s strength lies a serious vulnerability. Nearly every chip powering China’s cutting-edge projects and institutions is relentlessly tied to American technology. “The whole industry can only function with input from the United States,” Miller said. “At any near-state facility, there are U.S. tools, U.S. design software, and U.S. intellectual property throughout the process.” Despite tens of billions of dollars spent, the problem is still serious. In 2020, domestic Chinese chip makers only supplied 15.9% of the country’s total demand. As of April, China was spending more money importing semiconductors than oil.

America fully understands In 2019, the Trump administration’s addition of Chinese telecom giant Huawei to its list of entities increased the company’s clout in the global semiconductor market. While the listing was ostensibly a punishment for criminal offenses (Huawei was accused of selling sanctioned goods to Iran), the strategic benefits soon became apparent. Huawei, the world’s largest telecom-equipment maker, struggled to survive without access to U.S. semiconductors, software and other essentials. “The sanctions on Huawei ended immediately,” said Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who studies China’s technology ecosystem. “Chinese tech giants run on chips that are made in the USA or have components made in the USA.”

Export control law has long been viewed as a dusty, arcane backwater, far removed from the real exercise of American power. After Huawei, however, the United States realized that Huawei’s dominance in the semiconductor supply chain was a rich source of untapped influence. All three companies, based in the United States, dominate the chip design software market used to place the billions of transistors that fit into new chips. The market for advanced chip-making tools is similarly concentrated, with only a handful of companies that can claim to have a virtual monopoly on critical machinery and processes, and almost all of these companies are U.S. companies. , relies on US components. Every step of the supply chain passes through the United States, its treaty allies, or Taiwan, all of which operate in a US-led ecosystem. “We stumbled upon it,” says Sheehan. “We started using these weapons before we really understood. how for using them. ”

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