Chinese military buys US-designed AI chips made in Taiwan or Korea

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BEIJING ($1=6.72 Chinese Yuans) — The Chinese military’s progress in the field of artificial intelligence is largely dependent on having constant access to high-quality semiconductors. Most of the chips ordered by the Middle Kingdom military are designed by US companies.

Photo credit: Global Times

Specialists from the Center for Security in Emerging Technologies [CSET] point out that in the last 5 years the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has made notable progress thanks, inter alia, to the use of artificial intelligence [AI] for combat and support operations.

Beijing expects AI to introduce the “intelligence” of military affairs. It is about, among other ubiquitous network sensors, collisions between machines on the battlefield and increasing the pace and intensity of operations.

“The progress of the Chinese military in the field of artificial intelligence and related technologies depends to a large extent on continued access to a special class of semiconductors,” CSET experts point out. I’m talking about AI chips that are used to “train” advanced machine learning systems.

For details, the experts analyzed 24 procurements awarded by Chinese military units and state-owned defense companies in 2020.

The Chinese military does not want Chinese chips

Washington’s policy aims to limit China’s influence and power development. Donald Trump’s administration has taken decisive steps in this area. Now Joe Biden is continuing his policies, including restrictions on the export of American technology to a rival.

Despite US efforts, however, the Chinese military is ordering AI chips designed by American companies and manufactured in Taiwan and South Korea.

Photo credit: Air Power Australia

Of the 97 individual high-end semiconductors examined by experts, a CSET report found that almost all were designed by Nvidia, Xilinx [now AMD], Intel, or Microsemi.

At the same time, the experts did not find any public records of Chinese military units or state defense companies placing orders for AI chips designed by domestic companies such as HiSilicon [Huawei], Sugon, Sunway, Hygon, or Phytium.

An American problem

According to CSET, the US government does not have sufficient capacity to significantly restrict the sale of high-end semiconductors to end-users in China. The export control strategy is incomplete to reduce the Chinese military’s access to the chips.

The report notes that the military also often buys off-the-shelf AI solutions from Chinese academic institutions and private companies. They, in turn, also buy US-designed semiconductors and are not included in the category of military end-users of US technology.

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