By Venus Upadhayaya
While many have credited the Biden administration’s extensive export bans on semiconductor technology to China as dealing a huge blow to the Chinese regime’s economic and military ambitions, the success of the measures ultimately depends on enforcement, according to experts.
The Department of Commerce in October imposed extensive export controls aimed at restricting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from purchasing and manufacturing certain high-end chips used in artificial intelligence (AI) and supercomputers including in military applications.
The measures also forbade U.S. citizens and green card holders from performing certain functions at Chinese chip companies without a license in a bid to block American talent from aiding advanced semiconductor manufacturing.
The Biden administration widened the ban in December by adding 36 Chinese entities to its blacklist, including 21 AI chipmakers, such as China’s largest memory chipmaker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co.
Given the regime’s history of attempting to circumvent export laws by finding loopholes and using illicit means, Washington ought to remain cautious, according to a former U.S. official.
“The question is whether the U.S. government will have adequate resources to fully enforce the rules, and will the Chinese government give the U.S. government the type of visibility and audit access required for enforcement?” Nazak Nikakhtar, a senior visiting fellow at the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue told The Epoch Times in an email.
Nikakhtar, also former assistant secretary and under secretary at the Commerce Department, believes that the Chinese communist regime and observers would have somewhat expected these export bans.
“Broadly speaking, it should have been no surprise that the U.S. government was contemplating tougher export control measures on China’s semiconductor industry overall,” said Nikakhtar.
“Interestingly, some of the new rules were the subjects of reports prepared by individuals that worked at think tanks prior to joining the Biden administration.”
Nikakhtar warned that China understands the American export rules have gaps that Beijing can exploit through its opaque networks and approaches.
“China has a sophisticated, established system of diversion where it illegally acquires controlled items that had previously been lawfully exported from the U.S. abroad,” she said.
“In short, our rules certainly inconvenience the Chinese but generally history shows that the Chinese system can be reconfigured to work around our rules.”
One way to study the impact of the high-end semiconductor export control ban on China would be to measure the growth or contraction of the relevant Chinese industries in 12 to 36 months’ time, according to Nikakhtar.
“If China continues to grow its capabilities, that should signal to the administration and to Congress that we need to change our approach with respect to export controls and pursue broader rules that have no gaps,” Nikakhtar said.
Dustin Carmack, a research fellow for cybersecurity, intelligence, and emerging technologies at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, believes that even if an “efficient and enforceable export control standard can be implemented and expanded,” it won’t solve overnight the problem of China’s ascendence in AI, supercomputers, other high-tech fields that aid its military.
“Still, it could prove highly effective in knocking them off kilter and severely damaging some of their rapid growth and capabilities,” Carmack told The Epoch Times in an email.
Controlling the Timing
In response to the chip curbs, the Communist Chinese regime launched a challenge against the United States at the World Trade Organization on Dec. 12, calling the measures “trade protectionism.”
Washington, however, maintains that the curbs were put in place to protect U.S. national security.
A senior Taiwanese official who spoke to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity said that the timing of the chip ban took the Chinese regime by surprise because Beijing had thought it had more time to catch up on this front.
The only immediate way left for the CCP was to create legal hurdles for the United States, the official said.
“This ban is brilliant in the traditional ‘Art of War’ sense,” he said, referring to the Chinese military classic.
“We know the conflict between autocracy and democracy is inevitable (actually been going on for years; it’s just that the West didn’t realize it.) If we cannot control/avoid such conflict, at least we can control the timing and theater where the next battle is. That’s this chip ban—it takes the control of the tempo back.”
He added, “What I’m trying to say is that the CCP probably bought their own propaganda that democracies are inefficient and short-sighted, which is true in most cases but not this time.”
The official believes the world should expect the U.S. ban to be “tweaked and adjusted” over time since the measures are dealing with a country-specific and tech-based ban that will have many unknown variables and unintended consequences.
Despite the possibility of legal hurdles and challenges to enforcement, the Taiwanese source was optimistic that the measures would achieve their purpose. He pointed to Western industries, such as Hollywood, that are gradually disentangling themselves from Chinese interests.
“History is on our side,” he said. “Businesses can still prosper without CCP.”
“I think there are many ways to speed up the process or tilt it in our favor,” he said, adding that if the export ban is fully enforced it’ll completely eliminate China’s advanced chip capability.