Uncle Sam wants allies to join its anti-China chip crusade

As with the Destroy Huawei manual, US to pressure other countries to devise semiconductor sanctions

The US is trying to persuade allies to limit China's access to advanced semiconductor technologies, in a replay of its previous heavy-handed tactics against countries deploying Huawei kit in telco networks.

According to reports in Nikkei Asia, Japan is one of the countries that has had contact with the US government over the matter, and is said to be weighing up its options over which restrictions might be adopted, as well as looking to see how other notable US allies in Europe and elsewhere respond to the issue.

The US export controls, announced last month, blocked the sale to China of any chips for AI and HPC applications, as well as equipment that could be used to manufacture such products.

This also extends to equipment that might be used to make logic chips with a 16nm production process or more advanced, as well as DRAM at 18nm or more advanced, and NAND flash with greater than 128 layers.

As we reported at the time, the moves represented a new escalation in efforts by the US to contain China's growing semiconductor and compute capabilities, and could spark a damaging trade war if Beijing decides to retaliate.

Now it seems that Washington is not satisfied with compelling its own technology companies to stop their dealings with China, but wants governments in allied countries to follow suit.

Alan Estevez, US Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security, said: "We were talking to our allies. No one was surprised when we did this, and they all know that we're expecting them to cover likewise."

These latest machinations have the potential to play out along the lines of the US government's moves against Huawei over the past several years, which saw Washington browbeat friendly governments into taking similar actions.

As Reg readers will recall, the US government became concerned over the leadership position that Huawei had taken in the nascent 5G network arena. The company had secured a portfolio of key patents and its technology was being deployed in many commercial networks. This alarmed Washington, where many regarded Huawei as inextricably linked with the Chinese government and therefore representing a security threat.

The US banned domestic networks from installing Huawei kit and passed legislation allocating funds to reimburse any operators that voluntarily ripped and replaced their in-situ equipment from the Chinese company.

But it also began a campaign to compel other countries follow suit, heavily pressuring allies such as the UK with warnings that Washington might curtail the sharing of intelligence with Britain if Huawei continued to have a major presence in its telecoms networks.

The request was initially resisted since replacing all of the already deployed Huawei network kit would be costly and set back the planned rollout of 5G services. The UK's intelligence agencies had also given Huawei the clear after analyzing its products for backdoors or other security threats. Germany took a similar stance.

However, US sanctions that cut off the supply of western chip technology to Huawei forced the UK and others to fall in line, and the British government last month issued formal legal notices to telecoms operators instructing them to remove Huawei technology from the country's 5G networks by the end of 2027.

It isn't clear what steps America will take to convince its allies to go along with its new export controls on China, but many chip firms have already been warning that the measures could have an adverse effect on their profits in a market already facing a downturn. ®

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