The Biden administration has faced some criticism that it has moved slowly to curb China’s access to cutting-edge U.S. technology. For many administration officials, China’s recent progress in clearing a key technological hurdle in semiconductor manufacturing underscored the urgent need for more expansive regulation in the industry, people familiar with the discussions said.
The export controls are part of a bigger strategy from the Biden administration to starve China of key technologies while pumping money into U.S. chip-making factories. The measures come as Beijing ramps up its aggression toward Taiwan, which produces almost all of the world’s advanced semiconductors.
In remarks at the White House last month, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said that the U.S. government had previously tried to stay a few generations ahead of competitors in certain key technologies, but that the approach was no longer tough enough.
“Given the foundational nature of certain technologies, such as advanced logic and memory chips, we must maintain as large of a lead as possible,” he said.
The Biden administration has cited its broad use of export controls as a powerful tool to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, saying it will cripple Russia’s defense, technology, energy and other critical sectors in the long term. American officials say they can apply the same tool to other rival nations, notably China, to address national security challenges. The officials say the Trump administration’s use of export controls aimed at hobbling Huawei served as a model for how they formulated the controls on Russian companies.
Last month, the Biden administration imposed new restrictions on the sale of some sophisticated computer chips to China and Russia. Those limits focused on high-end models of chips known as graphic processing units sold by Silicon Valley companies like Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices. The products, originally made to render images in video games, have become critical for large computers that are used to train artificial intelligence algorithms.
Paul Triolo, senior vice president for China at Albright Stonebridge Group, a strategy firm, said that the move was “probably the strongest sort of regulatory and export control statement that the U.S. government has made with respect to China’s access to U.S. technology,” and that it was coming at a sensitive time for the Chinese leadership, ahead of a meeting of the 20th congress of the Communist Party, which will begin Oct. 16.
“The administration,” he said, “is putting its foot down here.”