This is the speed needed to more accurately model the heat and traction of hypersonic vehicles, an area of advanced weapons research in which the Chinese military is already engaged, using its current generation of supercomputers.
This move is good in the efforts that began during the Trump administration to add entities to the blacklist of trade ministries, known as the “List of Entities.” The previous administration ran out of time, leaving the package to be approved by his successor.
The list of companies and laboratories means that they cannot use technology originating in the United States without a license from the Department of Commerce, which is very difficult to obtain.
“These are parties that act in ways that run counter to our national security interests,” said a senior agency official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s about the fact that American articles do not contribute to China’s progress in its military capabilities.
Speaking widely on Wednesday about the Biden administration’s trade policy toward China, Trade Minister Gina Raimondo said: “What we do in violation is more important than what we do in defense.”
The designated entities include three semiconductor companies: Tianjin Phytium Information Technology (or Phytium), Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center and Sunway Microelectronics.
The trio has ties to the People’s Liberation Army. Phytium microprocessors have been used for the supercomputer at China’s largest aerodynamics research complex, which conducts research on hypersonic weapons.
The other four entities are Jinan National Supercomputer Center, Shenzhen National Supercomputer Center, Wuxi National Supercomputer Center, and Zhengzhou National Supercomputer Center.
“These computers have many legitimate civilian uses, but they are also very important for the design of weapons, especially for advanced design of weapons, nuclear weapons, cyber, missiles and even hypersound,” the official said.
The Commerce Department began sanctioning Chinese military high-performance computing entities in 2015 under the Obama administration. That same year, for example, it put the National University of Defense Technology and the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, the two PLA institutions, on the list of entities. Both are closely linked to Phytium, which was officially renamed Feiteng Information Technology Co., Ltd. on Wednesday.
Phytium is using US software design companies, which will now need to obtain a license to continue doing business with the Chinese chipmaker.
National security experts applauded the administration’s actions as long overdue. But they warned that China has ways to control exports.
“To be really effective, to be more than showy,” said Tim Morrison, an aide to the Trump administration who coordinates export control policies. the Biden administration must enforce a stricter measure – known as the rule on foreign direct products – that bans all U.S. technology on sanctioned individuals, even if that technology comes from a foreign company.
This will include Taiwanese chip foundries that use American precision tools.
“Otherwise, China will continue to take advantage of this technology and will accept that the Biden administration is not really serious about the ‘extreme competition’ it has promised,” Morrison said.
A decade ago, before being blacklisted, the Tianjin supercomputer lab used Intel-based Silicon Valley chips in its Tianhe 1 supercomputer. After the lab was sanctioned by the United States, the California chip giant could no longer provide technology, so that the laboratory turned to Phytium, according to Western analysts.
In 2019, the Ministry of Commerce listed a second set of Chinese companies and laboratories to participate in the military’s efforts to develop a super-scale supercomputer.
Since many advanced chips can be used for both commercial and military purposes, they are perfectly suited to the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy of “military-civilian” merger, which uses civilian companies to produce or acquire goods and technologies for PLA.
Shanghai’s high performance and some of the sanctioned supercomputer centers support PLA’s 56th Research Institute, which deals with breaking interception codes, a second senior sales official said.
“All of this is a way of saying that these companies have national standards to support the military,” the trade official said.
The official said the Commerce Department was working to make its export controls more effective by consulting with allies to see what action they could take, “as many have similar concerns” about China. Taiwan, for example, is a key player in the global semiconductor supply chain and is home to a state-of-the-art chip foundry.
On Wednesday, ahead of the trade announcement, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taipei would work with the United States to monitor its chip suppliers.
Taipei wants to “make sure that China’s semiconductor supplies to China are in line with the broader US strategic goals,” he said. “The Taiwanese government is working closely with the United States on the types of rules we need to follow to ensure that the supply chain benefits not only Taiwan but also the wider international community, especially like-minded people.”
To compete with China in the long run, Raimondo said on Wednesday, “we need to work with our allies and find a common language where we can.”
Gary Shea in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.