The curbs have been implemented to address vulnerabilities that emerged following the US’s imposition of export restrictions on chips in October last year.
But their primary objective is to block China’s military from procuring cutting-edge semiconductors and related equipment.
Nvidia Suffers in US-China Tech Battle
In a recently published filing, Nvidia said that the new export restrictions will block sales of two high-end artificial intelligence chips it created for the Chinese market – A800 and H800.
Nvidia said that one of its gaming chips will also be blocked.
Although the curbs also affect other chip makers, analysts believe Nvidia will be hit the hardest because China accounts for up to 25% of its revenues from data centre chip sales. Nvidia’s shares, which are considered a star stock, fell by as much as 4.7% in the wake of the announcement.
Regarding the Biden administration’s latest measures, the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents 99% of the US semiconductor industry by revenue, openly criticised the decision from the US government, accusing it of having damaging consequences.
In a statement from the organisation, it said the measures are “overly broad” and “risk harming the US semiconductor ecosystem without advancing national security as they encourage overseas customers to look elsewhere”.
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The Microchip War
In a relatively unsurprising reaction from the Chinese embassy, a spokesperson said that it “firmly opposes” the new restrictions, which also target Iran and Russia and go into effect in 30 days.
China already lashed out in retaliation two months ago, when it restricted exports of gallium and germanium, two materials which are key to the semiconductor industry.
As by far the biggest player in the global supply chain of gallium and germanium, producing 80% of the world’s gallium and 60% of germanium, according to the Critical Raw Materials Alliance (CRMA) industry body, this move by China in the microchip war had globally-felt consequences.
The materials are “minor metals”, meaning that they are not usually found on their own in nature, and are often the by-product of other processes.
However, although China is the leading exporter of gallium and germanium, there are substitutes for the materials in the production of components like computer chips, political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said.
There are also active mining and processing facilities located outside of China.
And, in other bad news for China, the US is not the only nation engaging with it in a microchip war.
Both Japan and the Netherlands – which is home to key chip equipment maker ASML – have also imposed chip technology export restrictions on China.
This comes in an active effort to “de-risk” China, which means being less reliant on it for both raw materials and finished products.
This constant tit-for-tat between the world’s two biggest economies has raised concerns over the rise of so-called “resource nationalism” when governments hoard critical materials to exert influence over other countries.
And experts warn that weaponising resources and technological capabilities – as the US and China have both done – will also have global consequences when it comes to the environment.
That is because important new green technologies are reliant on materials, like gallium and germanium, which are being tied up in the microchip war.
“This isn’t a national problem. This is a problem that we face as a human race. Hopefully, policymakers can bring their best selves to the table, secure access to those critical materials that are really essential for the energy transition and we can start to tackle some of the challenges around decarbonisation,” says Dr Gavin Harper, a critical materials research fellow at the University of Birmingham.
While the impact of the latest export controls from China will not be catastrophic for industry or consumers, experts warn it is important to pay attention to where the trend is heading.
“The man and woman in the street cannot relate to gallium and germanium,” says Dr Harper. “But equally, they care about how much their car costs or how expensive it will be to switch to green technology.”
“Sometimes very abstract policies happening in faraway lands actually translate into something that has a big impact on their lives.”