china censorship

US blacklists Chinese supercomputing entities

The US Commerce Department has extended its economic blacklist of Chinese firms by adding seven supercomputing organisations, which it believes are assisting Chinese military efforts, on the grounds of national security concerns.

Non-US companies need approval from the US Commerce Department before they can receive items from US-based suppliers. The Commerce Department alleges that the seven supercomputing firms were building supercomputers used by China’s aggressive military actors, including potentially for weapons of mass destruction programs.

In response, China has vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect the interests of its companies.

A Chinese draft economic blueprint, released last month, called for Chinese legislators to allocate more budget to companies in seven identified areas including artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, which it deemed pertained to “national security and overall development.”

During the previous Trump administration, the US added several dozen Chinese companies to its economic blacklist, most famously the Shenzhen-headquartered communications giant Huawei, along with the partially state-owned semiconductor major SMIC and one of the world’s largest drone makers, DJI.

The Commerce Department's blacklist now additionally includes Tianjin Phytium Information Technology; Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center; Sunway Microelectronics; the National Supercomputing Center Jinan; the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen; the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi, and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou.

The seven entities were blacklisted for “building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilising military modernisation efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction programs,” according to the Department's statement.

The new rules, which restrict US exports to the entities in question, take effect immediately. They do not apply to goods from US suppliers that are already en route.

Gina Raimondo, US Secretary of Commerce, wrote: “Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many – perhaps almost all – modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons.

“The Department of Commerce will use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging US technologies to support these destabilising military modernisation efforts”.

Speaking at a news conference in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, responded to the news, saying: “US containment and suppression cannot hold back the march of China’s scientific and technological development.”

Further heightening tensions between the US and China, leaders of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee have introduced new legislation to boost the country’s ability to push back against China’s expanding global influence by promoting human rights, providing security aid and investing to combat disinformation.

The draft measure, titled the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, mandates diplomatic and strategic initiatives to counteract Beijing, reflecting hardline sentiment on dealings with China from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

The 280-page bill, reported by the Reuters news agency, addresses economic competition with China, but also humanitarian and democratic values, such as imposing sanctions over the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs and supporting democracy in Hong Kong.

The bill stresses the need to “prioritise the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific.” It called for the funds to do so, saying Congress must ensure the federal budget is “properly aligned” with the strategic imperative to compete with China.

The bill recommends a total of $655m in foreign military financing funding for the region for the fiscal year of 2022 through to 2026 and a total of $450m for the 'Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative' and related programmes for the same period.

The ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’ highlights specific tensions around Taiwan. The draft legislation calls for an enhanced partnership with Taiwan, calling the island “a vital part of the United States Indo-Pacific strategy” and saying there should be no restrictions on US interaction with Taiwanese counterparts. China, however, considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has already warned the US to respect its "one-China principle" in diplomatic relations.

The Senate Commerce Committee is also scheduled to hold a hearing on April 14 on its bipartisan measure, the 'Endless Frontier Act', designed to bolster the domestic US semiconductor industry.

During his speech announcing the $2tn infrastructure spending plan earlier this week, President Biden cast it as an investment in global competitiveness for the US, particularly versus China.

“Do you think the rest of the world is waiting around? Do you think China is waiting around?” he asked, rhetorically. “They are not waiting, but they are counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited and too divided to keep pace”.

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