RISC-V technology emerges as battleground in US-China tech war

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October 6 (Reuters) – A new front in the U.S.-China tech war has emerged: lawmakers are pressuring President Joe Biden’s administration to prevent American companies from developing freely available chip technology that is widely used in China. This move could completely change the way the global technology industry collaborates with other countries.

In question is an open-source technology called RISC-V, or “risk five,” which rivals expensive proprietary technology from British software and semiconductor design giant Arm Holdings (O9Ty.F). From sophisticated processors for artificial intelligence to smartphone chips, RISC-V can be a crucial component of many products.

Citing national security concerns, a few politicians, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the leaders of two House of Representatives committees, are pressuring Biden’s administration to act on RISC-V.

RISC-V technology emerges as battleground in US-China tech war

The congressmen voiced concerns about Beijing’s potential to undermine the United States’ current lead in the semiconductor business and assist China in modernizing its military by taking advantage of an open culture of collaboration among American companies to improve its own semiconductor industry. Their remarks mark the first significant attempt to impose limitations on the RISC-V development being done by American corporations.

According to a statement provided to Reuters by Representative Mike Gallagher, the chairman of the House select committee on China, the Commerce Department should “require any American person or company to receive an export license prior to engaging with PRC (People’s Republic of China) entities on RISC-V technology.”

In the ongoing dispute between the United States and China over chip technology, calls to regulate RISC-V are the most recent development. The Biden administration has informed China that it will renew the export restrictions this month, which intensified last year.

RISC-V technology emerges as battleground in US-China tech war

By misusing RISC-V, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is able to evade US control over the intellectual property required for chip creation. Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Michael McCaul told Reuters that Americans should not be endorsing a PRC tech transfer plan that undermines American export control rules.

McCaul stated that if the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, which is in charge of export control laws, does not take appropriate action, he will look into passing legislation.

A spokesman for the Commerce Department said in a statement that the bureau “is constantly reviewing the technology landscape and threat environment, and continually assessing how best to apply our export control policies to protect national security and safeguard core technologies.”

In an effort to get over US sanctions and expand its chip industry, Communist China is creating open-source chip design, according to a statement provided by Rubio to Reuters. “If we don’t broaden our export controls to include this threat, China will one day surpass us as the global leader in chip design.”

“I fear that our export-control laws are not equipped to deal with the challenge of open-source software – whether in advanced semiconductor designs like RISC-V or in the area of AI – and a dramatic paradigm shift is needed,” Warner told Reuters in a statement.

RISC-V technology emerges as battleground in US-China tech war

The nonprofit foundation based in Switzerland that oversees RISC-V is in charge of coordinating the technological development efforts of for-profit businesses.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the Pentagon later provided funds for the University of California, Berkeley labs that produced the RISC-V technology. Its developers have drawn comparisons between it and freely available technologies like Ethernet, USB, and even the internet, which use global contributions to accelerate and lower the cost of innovation.

Huawei Technologies
Huawei Technologies executives have accepted RISC-V as a cornerstone of their country’s advancement in chip development. However, the US and its allies have also seized on the technology; for example, semiconductor giant Qualcomm (QCOM.O) is developing RISC-V chips with a consortium of European automakers, and Alphabet’s Google has announced that it will enable RISC-V in Android, the most widely used mobile operating system in the world.


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