With the release of Huawei’s newest Mate 60 smartphone, several lawmakers in the U.S. have requested the government take action, stunned as to how Beijing was able to acquire resources for the new device despite complex trade restrictions..
The launch of the phone came as an utter shock to industry insiders, given China’s apparent inability to produce sub 7-nanometer chips, which the U.S. has attempted to prevent through sanctions and trade restrictions.
The Mate 60’s processor is now believed to be manufactured by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), a partly state-owned foundry believed to be contributing to Beijing’s military.
The process — dubbed extreme ultraviolet lithography — is done using microscopic rays of light to etch circuits onto silicone chips; a process that was supposed to be inaccessible to Chinese chipmakers due to export controls by the Biden administration.
This failure to stop China’s advancement has raised questions as to how effective the Biden administration’s sanctions are against the communist nation.
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In a public letter shared on Aug. 14, U.S. lawmakers said they are “extremely troubled and perplexed” due to the Commerce Department’s “inability to effectively write and enforce export control rules against violators, especially China,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
Alan Estevez, U.S. under secretary of commerce for the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), was left out of the letter, which added that committees have warned of “loopholes in BIS rules attempting, unsuccessfully, to restrict technology to Huawei and SMIC” for “more than two years.”
“BIS has continued to grant licenses to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled companies, such as SMIC, worth hundreds of billions of dollars,” the letter read. “These companies support the CCP’s military and have been responsible for manufacturing semiconductors that power Huawei’s 5G devices, in violation of BIS’ export controls.”
Moreover, the letter also urges the need for additional control of export controls to prevent SMIC from gaining access to U.S.-made technologies.
Skeptical of the chip’s production, the BIS claimed the restrictions have “knocked Huawei down” substantially.
“We are continually working to assess and, when appropriate, update our controls based on the dynamic threat environment and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action to protect U.S. national security.”
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Huawei slips past the radar
Extreme ultraviolet lithography was initially a tight-lipped secret by Dutch tech company ASML, the masterminds behind the chip producing equipment.
Despite U.S. attempts to restrict Beijing’s access to the equipment, the latter’s newest chip, the Kirin 9000S, may lead to an “accelerated trajectory” by SMIC to develop new technology.
In September 2022, the Biden administration barred American-based technology firms that receive U.S. government funding from building “advanced technology facilities” in China for the following decade.
In August, Congress passed the Chips and Science Act (Chips) following a technological dispute between the U.S. and China.
In Sept. 2022, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said, “We’re also going to be implementing the guardrails to ensure those who receive Chips funds cannot compromise national security. They’re not allowed to use this money to invest in China; they can’t develop leading-edge technologies in China; they can’t send [the] latest technology overseas.”
Yet, Shenzhen-based Huawei plans to continue developing devices, unhindered by the sanctions. It announced its intentions to launch a mid-range 5G phone in October, state-based IT Times reported.
A top executive of Huawei also urged Beijing to produce more semiconductors despite the restricted exports and technology gap.
“There is still a [technological] gap between China-made and foreign-developed chips, servers and personal computers, but if we don’t use [home-grown products] that gap will never close,” Huawei deputy chairman Eric Xu Xhijun warned.