US crackdown on China’s chip sector proves 'futile' amid nation’s growing tech self-reliance
Intensifying suppression shows growing anxiety in Washington: experts
Published: Jun 12, 2024 11:32 PM
A chip manufacture machine Photo: VCG

A chip manufacture machine Photo: VCG

Chinese experts said on Wednesday that the escalating abuse of export controls by the US and its relentless crackdown on China's chip sector reflect its deepening anxiety and depletion of tactics in the high-tech competition with China, serving as political maneuvering amid an election year.

The comments followed Washington's reported plan to further restrict China's access to chip technology used for artificial intelligence (AI), adding to its ongoing suppression of China's high-tech development, as China is robustly advancing and enhancing its global competitiveness in technological innovation.

The measures being discussed would hinder China's ability to use a cutting-edge AI chip architecture known as "gate-all-around" or GAA, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

GAA technology, currently limited to cutting-edge process nodes to boost chip power and performance, is still in its early stages of adoption by chipmakers, Chinese experts said, noting that the hostile US moves will not stifle China's tech innovation but only backfire on its own industry players and disturb the global supply chain.

China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday blasted the hypocritical US practice of saying one thing but doing another, in response to media inquiries, emphasizing that US actions not only severely violate international trade rules but also undermine the stability of the global supply chain. 

China will stay closely tuned to the issue and resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests, the ministry said.

The US is increasingly concerned about China's rapid technological advance, particularly in high-end manufacturing, as it fears being overtaken, Ma Jihua, a veteran telecom industry observer, told the Global Times on Wednesday. Ma noted that the anxiety arises from "waning US tech dominance in recent years and its futile attempts to hinder China's rise."

Data from the General Administration of Customs showed that the export value of China's integrated circuits from January to May surged by 21.2 percent year-on-year, outpacing the gain of vehicles at 20.1 percent during the same period, underscoring the chip sector's growing global competitiveness.

In 2023, the volume of integrated circuits imported by China fell by 10.8 percent year-on-year, and the total import value fell by 15.4 percent, customs data showed, which analysts said showcased the country's improved self-sufficiency in the semiconductor sector.

Ma emphasized that although US officials have acknowledged China's rise in the high-tech sector, they are unlikely to relent on the pressure against China, particularly during an election year, when such words and actions are used as political shows to secure votes. 

The timing of Washington's final decision regarding the restriction is unclear and the scope of a potential rule is still under consideration, according to Bloomberg.

"US sanctions have failed to halt China's chip progress. Instead, they have compelled China to pursue self-reliance across the entire chip industry chain," Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Beijing-based Information Consumption Alliance, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

China has achieved breakthroughs in chip manufacturing, software tools, operating systems, databases and other aspects of semiconductor technology, and its vast market and rich application scenarios give the country multiple edges to overcome any blockade, Xiang noted.

The US aims to impede China's ability to assemble the sophisticated computing systems necessary for building and operating AI models and to cordon off the still nascent technology before it's commercialized, Bloomberg reported.

However, experts said that the attempt was shortsighted and ultimately futile in the long term, since significant breakthroughs have been made in areas such as storage and AI chips, signaling a shift in the industry from maturity toward high-end sophistication. With continuous investment and innovation, results are expected to emerge rapidly.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently expressed the company's desire to supply as many chips as possible to the Chinese mainland, warning that overly strict US export controls would only spur Asia's leading economy to develop its own semiconductors, according to Nikkei Asia reports. 

In 2023, China surpassed 100 AI models with more than 1 billion parameters. These large-scale models are empowering various sectors such as electronics, healthcare and transportation, spawning hundreds of application scenarios and benefiting numerous industries.

The US has already slapped many restrictions on selling advanced semiconductors and chipmaking tools to China, but experts said that these moves have not stopped China's progress but rather boomeranged on the US and caused substantial damage to the global supply chain.