The U.S. is set to unveil a fresh set of policies Thursday aimed at choking off China’s access to advanced chip manufacturing technology and the chips themselves, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Thursday’s planned announcement will articulate and expand upon the Biden administration’s early efforts to impede China’s military establishment and domestic surveillance apparatus from obtaining technology related to computing that is largely focused on AI applications. Those efforts to date have included notification letters to chip companies and tool makers advising them of new limits on sales. The administration’s goal is to use a broad range of policies, including export controls, a potential executive order, and the foreign direct product rule, among other methods.
The Commerce Department declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters and The New York Times reported earlier Monday that the announcement was set for this week, but did not specify a day.
The Biden administration’s strategy around China’s access to American chip technology has begun to take shape following the appointment of several key White House officials and the confirmation of Commerce Department Undersecretary for the Bureau of Industry and Security Alan Estevez in March. The BIS is responsible for American export controls.
The administration’s plans include blocking Chinese businesses, government research labs, and others from purchasing products that use American-made tech, The New York Times reported. Expanding the use of the foreign direct product rule to block Chinese entities from buying certain chips is only one element of the strategy, the newspaper said.
Protocol reported in August that the Biden administration plans to roll out export control rules on semiconductor manufacturing equipment that is capable of making chips with fin field-effect transistors, or FinFETs. FinFET loosely refers to the shape of the transistor, which is sometimes referred to as the 14-nanometer manufacturing process. Thursday’s announcement is expected to include export controls on chipmaking tools.
In late August, Nvidia and AMD disclosed they had received notification letters from the Commerce Department ordering them to halt sales of chips designed for artificial intelligence computing. Neither company disclosed the technical limits the administration imposed on the AI chips, but Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said it was a combination of computing horsepower and a “specific level of inter-chip connection bandwidth.”
Beyond the logic chips made by Nvidia and AMD for AI applications, the Biden administration has also considered blocking several types of memory, according to two people familiar with the administration’s thinking. High-bandwidth memory (which is useful for training large AI models) and flash were among the memory technologies under consideration, the people said.
Administration officials had been briefed by several memory manufacturers about establishing specific thresholds for flash and high-bandwidth memory, according to another person familiar with the discussions. It wasn’t immediately clear what, if any, export controls or other measures would apply to memory in Thursday’s announcement.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of Alan Estevez's confirmation and the month in which Nvidia and AMD disclosed notification letters. This story was updated on Oct. 4, 2022.