The U.S. Department of Commerce announced it was launching a probe into a suspected 7-nanometer processor chip in Huawei Technologies Co.’s latest smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro. The new phone was released last week, when Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was touring China, and was found to use advanced technology America did not want China to have.

“We are working to obtain more information on the character and composition of the purported 7nm chip,” a Commerce spokesperson said in a statement first reported by Bloomberg. “Let’s be clear: export controls are just one tool in the U.S. government’s toolbox to address the national security threats presented by the PRC. The restrictions in place since 2019 have knocked Huawei down and forced it to reinvent itself—at a substantial cost to the PRC government.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced it was launching a probe into a suspected 7-nanometer processor chip in China tech company Huawei's latest smartphone.
A Huawei Mate 60 Pro smartphone. Photographer: James Park/Bloomberg

The chip is thought to have been made by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, which like Huawei has been banned by the United States. The revelation about the new Huawei device has led to debates in Washington, such as whether Raimondo’s department failed to prevent China from developing the technology and whether it will give China’s military a leg-up in an quasi-arms race against the United States, according to Bloomberg.

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This follows a series of restrictions the U.S. placed on Huawei and the Chinese microchip industry starting as early as 2020, when the Trump administration imposed limits on exports by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. The Commerce Department had sent a letter to all American companies in the chip industry that they had to acquire a special license to buy products from the company, because the U.S. government determined it “may pose an unacceptable risk of diversion to a military end use in the People’s Republic of China.”

In August, the Biden administration banned investment into some Chinese tech fields, like semiconductors and microelectronics, quantum information technologies and AI sectors.

Policymakers are currently weighing whether even tighter restrictions on Chinese imports and exports are needed to deter future acquisition of sensitive intellectual property, tools, and materials.

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