Escalating Tech Tensions: The Unfolding Drama of a Global Chip War
July 6, 2023
Whether we call it a trade war, a tech standoff, or a chip conflict, the escalating tension between the globe’s two economic titans is advancing into new, challenging terrain. China has recently implemented a series of national security measures poised to further complicate the international supply chain. These constraints specifically target export controls on critical metals such as gallium and germanium, essential to industries like semiconductors, electric vehicles, and aerospace manufacturing. The announcement prompted a premarket surge of approximately 9% in rare element corporations such as AXT (AXTI) and MP Materials (MP). An expanded implementation of these restrictions could exacerbate the situation, especially if the U.S. retaliates with additional technology constraints.
The Backdrop: Unpacking the CHIPS Act and Its Implications
To appreciate the present scenario, it’s critical to revisit the previous summer when the U.S. passed the CHIPS Act. This legislation authorized the federal government to invest billions of dollars into the semiconductor sector to ensure its global leadership and safeguard national security. The Biden administration then enforced stringent export controls to prevent American companies – and any international firm using their technology – from selling chip designs, software, and equipment to Beijing. The regulation also prohibited U.S. nationals from working with Chinese chip companies, aiming to slow their technological advancement. As part of its isolation strategy, the U.S. successfully persuaded allies like the Netherlands and Japan to limit exports of specific advanced chip-making equipment. Despite these measures, some analysts argue that China may eventually gain the upper hand.
The Broader Impact of Chip Technology
Chips’ ubiquity in today’s world is undeniable – they underpin nearly all aspects of modern life, driving our economy. However, the main concerns center on chips employed in sensitive military technologies. The most sophisticated integrated circuits allow nations a significant advantage in weaponry systems and intelligence gathering, representing a symbol of geopolitical power. Amid its growing influence, China has made strides towards producing its own advanced chips, surprising the U.S. with its recent military innovations. Recall the worldwide stir caused by China’s hypersonic missile test in 2021?
Diplomatic Maneuvers: A Ray of Hope Amid Rising Tensions?
As tensions rise, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plans to visit China, following closely on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visit. Ahead of these high-stakes diplomatic engagements, Chinese leader Xi Jinping expressed a desire to cooperate with other nations to “reject the moves of setting up barriers, decoupling, and severing supply chains.” Xi also voiced a vision to “expand the pie of win-win cooperation” and to “ensure a more equitable distribution of development gains worldwide.” These overtures, however, face considerable challenges as the U.S. contemplates limiting Chinese companies’ access to cloud-computing services and issues a new advisory cautioning Americans to reconsider travel to Mainland China, adding to the existing tension.