US adds Chinese supercomputing companies to export blacklist

The US has placed Chinese companies accused of building supercomputers to help the Chinese military on an export blacklist, the first such move by the Biden administration to make it harder for China to obtain US technology.

Three companies and four branches of China’s National Supercomputing Center were added to the US commerce department’s “entity list”, which bars US companies from exporting technology to the groups without a licence.

The commerce department said the groups were involved in building supercomputers used by Chinese “military actors” and facilitating programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

“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,” said Gina Raimondo, the US commerce secretary.

“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,” she added.

The Chinese entities are Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics and the National Supercomputing Center branches.

The Washington Post this week reported that Phytium designed semiconductors using US technology to power a supercomputer being employed to develop hypersonic missiles, which are hard to detect because of their speed.

The Trump administration had put dozens of Chinese companies on the entity list, including Huawei, the telecoms equipment company, It also targeted Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation and DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone maker.

The Biden administration is reviewing dozens of China-related actions that Donald Trump took in his last year in office, including an order that prohibits Americans from investing in Chinese companies included on a Pentagon list of groups accused of helping the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The US is also talking to allies in Asia and Europe to try to find ways to co-ordinate export controls

The Washington Post said Phytium outsourced the manufacturing of its chips to TSMC, the Taiwanese company that has become the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturer.

The Financial Times previously reported that the Trump administration had pressed the Taiwanese government to restrict TSMC from producing chips for Huawei, which it said were being used in Chinese missiles that could be deployed in a potential attack on Taiwan.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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