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Japan, Netherlands reportedly join US in China tech export ban

But the first rule of Chip Fight Club must be observed. Meanwhile Beijing may have its own shadow bans

The talks between the US, Japan, and the Netherlands over wider bans on exports of semiconductor technology to China have reportedly seen the three agree to concerted action.

As The Register has often chronicled, the US has restricted exports of critical chipmaking and silicon technologies to China, hoping to prevent its economic and strategic rival from developing military technologies – and to protest human rights abuses.

While the Home of the Brave has spawned many of Earth's most significant chipmakers and designers – Intel, AMD, Qualcomm and many others have headquarters stateside – other nations also export semiconductor tech to China. The Land of the Free would rather put a stop to that if possible.

The Biden Administration also recognizes that its bans could be seen as creating an opportunity for other nations to cash in on the absence of US vendors in the Chinese market. The three-nation talks therefore have the extra dimension of making sure America's policies have their desired effect against China and don't harm the home team.

Those twin desires saw Japan and the Netherlands in talks with the US last week, and according to numerous reports the meetings produced a unified approach to restrict semiconductor exports to China.

Just what was agreed is not known and may never be: Bloomberg quoted Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte as saying the matter is so sensitive he and his government won't discuss it in public. The New York Times referred to "people familiar with the agreement" and also said no details will be made public due to the sensitivity of the matter.

But reports agree that Japan and the Netherlands signed up for something that aligns with the USA's goals.

More US tech export bans to come?

Michael McCaul, chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, has suggested the Biden administration plans to ban US financing of Chinese tech.

In conversation with Politico, McCaul recounted discussions with administration officials who discussed bans on "capital flows into sectors of the economy like AI, quantum, cyber, 5G, and, of course, advanced semiconductors — all those things."

"They actually want to say, right, you can't invest in any [Chinese] company that does AI. You can't invest in any company that does cyber."

China, meanwhile, has pondered its own semiconductor export ban. In late December the nation's Ministry of Commerce sought comment on a fresh draft of its export restrictions list and one newly added item was photovoltaic silicon wafer preparation technology, which is required in the manufacture of solar panels.

China utterly dominates production of photovoltaic solar cells, with over 80 percent market share. Such products are increasingly in demand around the world as nations transition to renewable sources of energy. If China won't allow exports of photovoltaic silicon wafer preparation technology, rivals will have a hard time getting into the biz. Beijing may be able to create a bottleneck that makes climate adaptation measures harder to deliver.

It could also, however, prevent Chinese firms from establishing manufacturing facilities overseas. That could be problematic because some solar panels are believed to be made in China's Xinjiang province – sometimes by Uighur people pressed into forced labor.

The US has already banned imports of material from Xinjiang over human rights concerns, meaning a ban on photovoltaic exports could leave China open to further action against that industry. ®

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