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The unpredictable plot twist in US-China tech war

In this post:

  • RISC-V, an open-source chip technology, becomes a central issue in the US-China tech conflict.
  • US lawmakers express concerns about China exploiting RISC-V to advance its semiconductor industry, potentially overtaking the US’s lead.
  • While originally an initiative for global collaboration, RISC-V’s widespread use in China raises national security concerns in the US.

The world assumed the US-China technological conflict had clear battle lines. Yet, a surprising twist brings to the fore a technology known to many but considered benign in the bigger picture of geopolitical tensions. Welcome to the latest chapter of the US-China saga, where open-source chip technology, RISC-V, takes center stage.

RISC-V: From obscurity to the spotlight

Until recently, only a segment of tech enthusiasts and insiders were deeply familiar with RISC-V, an open-source technology.

Competing against the pricey proprietary technologies of Arm Holdings, RISC-V offers an affordable and versatile solution, applicable in everything from your everyday smartphone to high-end artificial intelligence processors.

But its widespread use in China has set alarm bells ringing in Washington. Senior lawmakers, including Republican House of Representatives committee heads and Senators from both sides of the aisle, have pointed fingers at Beijing.

They allege that China, under the guise of open collaboration, is cunningly advancing its semiconductor industry, potentially threatening the US’s dominant position.

Not only is there a looming threat of China modernizing its military with this technology, but there’s also the shadow of China circumventing the US’s hold on intellectual property rights to design chips.

The criticality is further underlined by Representative Michael McCaul’s stern stance. He demands prompt action from the Bureau of Industry and Security and threatens legislative moves if left unheard.

The Commerce Department, though, remains tight-lipped. While acknowledging their ongoing reviews, they’ve given no clear indication of their stance.

The global ripple effect of the RISC-V debate

The unfolding debate isn’t merely a US-China narrative. RISC-V stands as a global collaborative effort. Overseen by a Swiss-based nonprofit, this technology, originally birthed at the University of California, Berkeley, was further nurtured by the Pentagon’s DARPA.

The creators envisioned RISC-V as a technology as universal and transformative as the internet, USB, or Ethernet.

Notably, China isn’t the sole benefactor of RISC-V’s rise. Giants like Qualcomm are collaborating with European auto firms for RISC-V based solutions, while Google is set to modify Android for compatibility with these chips.

But the plot thickens. If the Biden administration heeds the lawmakers’ advice, it could radically alter how US and Chinese tech companies cooperate on open technical standards.

Such a move might be a setback for China’s goal of semiconductor independence. Concurrently, it might obstruct the endeavors of the US and Europe to bring forward affordable and versatile chips.

Jack Kang of SiFive, a startup deeply embedded in the RISC-V ecosystem, paints a stark picture of the potential implications. Likening the restrictions to banning work on the internet, Kang warns of its catastrophic impact on technology, leadership, and innovation.

Yet, as Kevin Wolf, an export-control attorney, indicates, regulating discussions around technology isn’t uncharted territory. Although a rare move, the precedent set by existing rules on chip exports could facilitate such a proposal.

The US-China tech conflict, with its unpredictable turns and twists, exemplifies the intricate web of global technological collaboration.

As nations grapple with safeguarding their interests, the lines between collaboration and competition blur. In this high-stakes game, one thing’s certain: the tech war is far from over.

Disclaimer: The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decision.

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