US targets supercomputing setups in new China blacklist

Published (HKT): 2021.04.09 17:32

Washington on Thursday placed seven Chinese firms and government laboratories under economic sanctions for allegedly helping to develop supercomputers for China’s military use.

One of the newly blacklisted entities, Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, was reportedly designing supercomputers used by authorities for research about hypersonic weapons in hidden military facilities in southwestern China, the Washington Post reported.

“These [Chinese] entities are involved with building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction programs,” the U.S. Department of Commerce said in announcing the sanctions.

Besides Tianjin Phytium, U.S. commerce officials also named the 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 department’s website showed.

“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,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said.

The blacklist imposes export controls by requiring those sanctioned to apply for licenses from United States authorities when they receive items from American suppliers. It takes effect immediately but will not apply to goods that are already shipped.

Dozens of Chinese companies are already on Washington’s economic and defense sanction lists, a result of the hawkish administration under president Donald Trump when he was in charge. Those companies include top smartphone maker Huawei Technologies, semiconductor manufacturer SMIC and drone producer Shenzhen DJI Technology Co Ltd.

Phytium not only had links to the People’s Liberation Army of mainland China, it was also making use of production facilities in Taiwan to make microprocessors, according to the Washington Post in its Thursday report.

The Phytium microprocessors were designed using U.S. software and completed at factories of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company with the help of precision machinery, also from the U.S., the newspaper said. Another semiconductor manufacturer, Taiwan’s Alchip Technologies, assisted in the production, it said.

Phytium’s hypersonic weapons were to be used against American military warships or Taiwan, the report quoted former U.S. officials and Western analysts as saying.

The newspaper said the partnership between Phytium and the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Center was the best example of how Chinese authorities converted civilian technology to military use.

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