In Washington, D.C., 10 Republican politicians, including the chairmen of four major and influential committees, wrote to the White House demanding an explanation from the Biden administration for how Chinese companies, and Huawei in particular, apparently succeeded to escape the strict measures of the United States. export laws and continue to produce advanced, cutting-edge microchips despite U.S. embargoes.
The signatories to the letter are: Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Mike Rogers of Alabama, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who chairs the Special Committee on China. It was co-signed by Ann Wagner of Missouri; Robert Latta of Ohio; young Oak Kim from California; Gus Bilirakis of Florida; Brian Mast, also from Florida; and Morgan Griffith of Virginia.
They say they are angry and “perplexed” about how Huawei’s latest smartphone, the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, has been launched at the end of Augustcame to market with 7 nanometer (nm) “Kirin 9000” chips, a technological feat considered by the Americans to be beyond the capabilities of the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation of China (SMIC), which manufactured the chip. , seemingly instantly and out of nowhere.
The 7nm chip involves an expensive and complex manufacturing process that etches circuits onto chips via extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. It enables the production of microprocessors with a smaller surface area, associated with higher energy efficiency and better battery life and performance.
These attributes are essential to the future development of smartphone and other wearable device markets. The designation “nm” indicates the size of individual transistors on a microprocessor. The more there are per chip, the more powerful the chip. There is growing suspicion that China would not have been able to achieve this feat alone and without Western technology.
US export controls were designed to keep this technology out of the hands of Chinese chipmakers for the foreseeable future, but have evidently done no such thing and the Republican letter authors complain that the Biden administration has demonstrated its “inability to draft and effectively implement export measures.” control rules against violators, especially China.
Echoing its theme, the letter goes on to say that for two years the committees have pointed out “flaws in the BIS (Bureau of Industry and Security Rules) rules.” [that have been] trying, without success, to restrict technology to Huawei and the minimum wage.
It also accuses Alan Estevez, BIS Undersecretary of Commerce, of having “continued to grant licenses to companies controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), such as SMIC, worth hundreds of billions of dollars.” These companies support the CCP military and are responsible for manufacturing semiconductors that power Huawei’s 5G devices, in violation of BIS export controls.
In response, Jake Sullivan, the top lawyer who is Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said the government is “evaluating” the SMIC chip and will stick to its “small and small set of technology restrictions.” high fences focused narrowly on national security. concerns. »
Meanwhile, China still has its Great Wall, despite a tractor cutting a hole in it to create a shortcut to a field, and is rapidly expanding its global “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure development strategy which, in the event of success, would continue. surrounds the West and makes the PRC “a leader in world affairs consistent with its growing power and status.”
The United States is very concerned about China getting its hands on Western 5nm, 3nm and 2nm technologies.
At the same time, the US Department of Commerce has opened its own investigation into how China acquired 7nm technology. One area of inquiry is how SMIC got its hands on 7nm manufacturing equipment in the face of US bans introduced in 2020.
The Republicans who signed the letter say: “Due to the pervasiveness of U.S.-sourced technology throughout the semiconductor supply chain, these reports suggest a violation of U.S. control regulations. exports. »
They recommend a regime of “total blocking sanctions” against Huawei and SMIC and the initiation of criminal proceedings against the directors of the two companies. Mike Gallagher, Chairman of the House Select Committee on China, said: “Now is the time to end all exports of American technology to Huawei and SMIC to make clear that any company that flouts American law and undermines our national security will be excluded from our activities. technology.”
That’s all well and good, but companies like SMIC and Huawei purchased advanced lithography equipment before sanctions were imposed, appear to have acquired more afterwards, and are also devoting immense resources to developing their own locally produced chips , no doubt in the light of what they have learned from what they have acquired, whatever the source, legitimate or illegitimate.
The problem now facing the United States and other Western manufacturers is ensuring that China cannot acquire new EUV lithography systems capable of producing 5nm, 3nm, or even 2nm chips.
Manufacturing such components will be extremely difficult and extremely expensive. 7nm chips are difficult enough to manufacture, but at 5nm, 3nm or 2nm, electronic quantum tunneling becomes a real problem.
The effect is that the tiny transistors will be so close together that the electrons will not stay in the logic gate where they are supposed to be but will flow effortlessly from one gate to the other. This means that it is not possible for the transistors to be completely turned off and will simply leak power. This is not what one would want in a 6G mobile device.