China Defies Biden’s Tech Blockade with Microchip Marvel

china defies biden s tech blockade with microchip marvel.jpg Technology

In a significant technology breakthrough that’s sure to ruffle feathers in Washington, China has made a major leap in microchip manufacturing, potentially thwarting US President Joe Biden’s attempts to curb Beijing’s access to advanced technology. The heart of the matter lies in Huawei’s latest smartphone, which features chips seemingly manufactured using state-of-the-art techniques developed in Europe—technologies that are currently under trade restrictions.

The chips used in the Mate 60 smartphone are innocuous in themselves, but the implication that Beijing now has access to this high-level manufacturing technology is expected to set alarm bells ringing in the US, given the potential military applications. This development is particularly significant as President Biden has been actively trying to restrict China’s access to cutting-edge chip technology, fearing its possible military usage. The revelation that China’s biggest microchip manufacturer, SMIC, which was placed on a US "blacklist" in 2020 due to potential "unacceptable risk" of military application, has been involved in the production of the Mate 60’s processor chip, adds another layer of complexity to this unfolding tech saga.

China Breaks Through in Microchip Manufacturing, Subverting US Restrictions

China has achieved a significant stride in microchip manufacturing, potentially undermining efforts by US President Joe Biden to restrict Beijing’s access to advanced technology.

Cutting-edge Techniques from Europe

According to research firm TechInsights, Huawei’s newest smartphone, the Mate 60, appears to utilize chips manufactured via innovative techniques developed in Europe. This technology is now subject to trade restrictions. The Mate 60’s main processor chip was analyzed by TechInsights, and they concluded it was produced using a method known as EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography), an advanced manufacturing technique used to etch a chip’s inner workings into its silicon.

This closely guarded secret was developed by Dutch company ASML and integrated into its multi-billion-dollar chip manufacturing machines. However, China is largely blocked from purchasing these machines under trade restrictions led by the US.

Manufacturing by SMIC

The Mate 60’s processor chip was manufactured by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), a semi-state-owned foundry. The fact that Beijing seemingly has access to this manufacturing technology is likely to cause concern in Washington.

President Biden has been working to limit China’s access to the most sophisticated chip technology due to fears of potential military use. SMIC, China’s largest microchip manufacturer, was added to a US "blacklist" in 2020 due to the "unacceptable risk" of their products being used for military purposes, a claim SMIC denies.

A Significant Statement for China

TechInsights vice-chairman Dan Hutcheson, speaking to Bloomberg, described China’s tech breakthrough as "a pretty important statement for China." The report resulted in SMIC’s shares surging by 10% in Hong Kong.

Last year, Huawei raised concerns that China had made progress in EUV technology when it filed a patent related to the technique. The Kirin 9000S chip in the new Mate 60 appears to use a so-called "7 nanometre" process node, a measure of a chip’s circuitry’s size and power. Current US sanctions prohibit China from importing manufacturing equipment for process nodes smaller than 14nm, a technology considered cutting-edge in 2015.

My Takeaways

The breakthrough in microchip manufacturing by China signifies a major shift in the global technology race. Despite stringent trade restrictions, China’s advancement showcases their potential to be self-reliant in chip production. This development could alter the dynamics of tech power and could have substantial implications for global trade and security. It underscores the need for the US and other nations to enhance their own technological capabilities to maintain a competitive edge.

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