Trump admin turns screws on China’s Huawei with new chip actions

New actions aimed at preventing Huawei from end-running US export controls on chips imposed in May, say US officials.

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With US-China relations at their worst in decades, the Trump administration is pushing governments around to world to squeeze Huawei out [File: Sarah Silbiger/Reuters]

The Trump administration announced on Monday it will further tighten restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co, aimed at cracking down on the Chinese telecoms giant’s access to commercially available chips.

The United States Commerce Department actions will expand restrictions announced in May aimed at preventing Huawei from obtaining semiconductors without a special licence – including chips made by foreign firms that have been developed or produced with US software or technology.

The administration will also add 38 Huawei affiliates in 21 countries to the US government’s economic blacklist, sources tell Reuters news agency, raising the total to 152 affiliates since Huawei was first added in May 2019.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told US network Fox Business the restrictions on Huawei-designed chips imposed in May “led them to do some evasive measures. They were going through third parties,” Ross said. “The new rule makes it clear that any use of American software or American fabrication equipment is banned and requires a licence.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the rule change “will prevent Huawei from circumventing U.S. law through alternative chip production and provision of off-the-shelf chips”. He added in a statement “Huawei has continuously tried to evade” US restrictions imposed in May.

Huawei did not immediately comment.

With US-China relations at their worst in decades, Washington is pushing governments around the world to squeeze Huawei out, arguing it would hand over data to the Chinese government for spying. Huawei denies it spies for China.

The new actions, effective immediately, should prevent Huawei’s attempts to circumvent US export controls, a Commerce Department official said.

It “makes clear that we’re covering off-the-shelf designs that Huawei may be seeking to purchase from a third-party design house,” the official told Reuters.

A new separate rule requires companies on the economic blacklist to obtain a licence when a company like Huawei on the list acts “as a purchaser, intermediate consignee, ultimate consignee, or end user”.

The department also confirmed it will not extend a temporary general licence that expired on Friday for users of Huawei devices and telecommunication providers. Parties must now submit licence applications for transactions previously authorised.

The Commerce Department is adopting a limited permanent authorisation for Huawei entities to allow “ongoing security research critical to maintaining the integrity and reliability of existing” networks and equipment.

Existing US restrictions have already had a heavy impact on Huawei and its suppliers. The May restrictions do not fully go into effect until September 14.

On August 8, financial magazine Caixin reported Huawei will stop making its flagship Kirin chipsets next month due to US pressure on suppliers.

Huawei’s HiSilicon division has relied on software from US companies such as Cadence Design Systems Inc and Synopsys Inc to design its chips and outsourced the production to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), which uses equipment from US companies.

TSMC has said it will not ship wafers to Huawei after September 15.

Source: Reuters