TECHNOLOGY RESILIENCEWashington Raises Stakes in War on Chinese Technology

By Edward Alden

Published 20 October 2022

The Biden administration is expanding its list of technology-focused sanctions on China, drawing parallels to U.S. controls targeting the Soviet Union during the Cold War – and the new U.S. sanctions are in some ways more restrictive than Cold-War era controls.

The United States is not looking for a new Cold War with China, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a major speech on foreign policy in May. “We don’t seek to block China from its role as a major power, nor to stop China—or any country—from growing their economy or advancing the interests of their people.”

That was then. With last week’s announcement of sweeping new controls on sales of semiconductors to China, the Biden administration’s approach to Beijing now looks increasingly drawn from the Cold War playbook. The U.S. Commerce Department said it will vastly expand its campaign to deny advanced semiconductors and other critical technologies to China. The new restrictions, which will be fully implemented as soon as Oct. 21, go well beyond any previous measures by seeking to freeze China at a backward state of semiconductor development and cut Chinese companies off from U.S. industry expertise. “To put it mildly, [Chinese companies] are basically going back to the Stone Age,” Szeho Ng, managing director at China Renaissance, told the Financial Times.

The new measures will block sales of semiconductors vital for the development of artificial intelligence, supercomputers, and other critical technologies as well as expand prohibitions on the sale to China of equipment needed for making its own advanced chips. Such chips not only are vital to the latest weaponry but also have broad commercial applications, from health care to autonomous vehicles. And in a novel move, the actions also forbid U.S. companies and citizens from working with Chinese entities on advanced semiconductor design, research, or fabrication. “That is a bigger bombshell than stopping us from buying equipment,” said one official at a Chinese state-owned company, noting that Americans—mostly Chinese or Taiwanese dual citizens—work “in some of the most important positions.”

With China so integral to the global electronics supply chain—and to the profits of Western technology companies—Washington has been trying to find a balance between treating Beijing as an economic partner and a geopolitical rival. But a choice has now been made: For the first time in a generation, weakening China is now more important to the United States than working with China.