This potential decision continues the trend of Washington tightening the reins on technology with possible military applications, emphasizing the tense relations between these global superpowers.
A strengthened stance against AI chip exports
According to insider sources, the United States Commerce Department is in the process of modifying extensive export controls set in place from October of the previous year.
This action could disrupt plans for tech giants such as Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), making it challenging for them to sell their high-end chips to Chinese entities.
Nvidia, the renowned graphics processing unit (GPU) producer, had to re-strategize its production in response to these export controls, leading to the development of the A800 and H800 chips.
Although these chips lag behind their predecessors in terms of speed, they remain crucial to AI research and development for Chinese tech titans.
Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, expressed his concerns about the export restrictions, emphasizing their detrimental effect on the U.S. tech sector.
However, despite these challenges, Chinese tech giants including Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, and ByteDance have increased their orders for Nvidia chips amid the surge of generative AI in China this year.
The impact on U.S.-China relations
This potential move from the U.S. is just the latest effort from the Biden administration to stifle China’s access to cutting-edge technology, with a particular focus on AI chips.
These chips play a crucial role in a wide range of applications, from the development of hypersonic weapons to nuclear weapons modeling.
China has been creative in its approach to circumventing these export restrictions, employing strategies such as renting access to A100 chips.
Regardless, the U.S.’ stance remains firm, with national security adviser Jake Sullivan describing the strategy as fencing off a small yard of critical technology to ensure American tech doesn’t aid in compromising U.S. security interests.
As a response, China has also issued its countermeasures. In May, Beijing prohibited Chinese infrastructure operators from purchasing chips from Micron, a semiconductor manufacturer based in Idaho, U.S. This action was seen by many as a retaliation against the U.S.’ export controls.
Preparing for a tightened investment screen
In addition to these potential curbs on AI chip exports, the Biden administration is reportedly readying an executive order aimed at screening investments headed for China. This measure is designed to lessen the likelihood of U.S. funds indirectly supporting the Chinese military.
However, the forthcoming update to the export controls, expected to roll out this summer, coincides with attempts from both the U.S. and China to stabilize their relationship, which is currently at its lowest point since the establishment of their diplomatic ties in 1979.
The two nations continue to navigate a complex landscape of technological and geopolitical challenges, with the potential AI chip export curbs adding another layer of complexity to their intricate relationship.
As we head further into 2023, the global tech sector awaits the final decision from the U.S. and braces itself for the potential ripple effects it may cause.