U.S. restricts sales of Sophisticated Chips to China and Russia

The Biden administration has imposed new restrictions on sales of some sophisticated computer chips to China and Russia, the U.S. government’s latest attempt to use semiconductors as a tool to hobble rivals’ advances in fields such as high-performance computing and artificial intelligence.

The new limits affect high-end models of chips known as graphics processing units, or GPUs, which are sold by the Silicon Valley companies Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices. Such products were originally developed to render images in video games but in the past decade were widely deployed in the largest supercomputers used by scientists and by internet companies for applications such as recognizing speech and objects in photographs.

Supercomputers are used in applications that include weapons development and intelligence gathering, and some large systems in China have been linked to surveillance of the country’s Muslim minorities. A.I. technology is also increasingly being used for purposes such as identifying faces in video images.

The restrictions are part of a cold war between China and the United States for primacy in advanced technologies. The Biden administration, building on limits begun under former President Donald J. Trump, has adopted measures aimed at restricting access by companies such as China’s Huawei to advanced chips and foreign semiconductor manufacturing. China has designed many chips on its own, but generally relies on factories in Taiwan to manufacture the most advanced models.

In statements on Wednesday, Nvidia and AMD acknowledged the new restrictions.

Nvidia, by far the largest GPU maker, said the federal government would now require it to seek export licenses to sell two high-end chips used with server systems in data centers. The government said the new requirement would address the risk that those products might be used in, or diverted to, a military use in China and Russia, according to the company.

Nvidia has many customers in China, but does not currently sell to Russia. It said the new measures affected a business that generated about $400 million in revenue in its most recent fiscal quarter.

AMD said the measures appeared to affect sales of one of its high-end GPUs to China and Russia. It said it did not believe the restrictions would have a material effect on its business.

China’s Ministry of Commerce on Thursday accused the United States of abusing export control measures to restrict the export of semiconductor-related items to China and warned that the move would “hinder international scientific and technological exchanges and economic cooperation, and have an impact on the stability of global industrial and supply chains and the recovery of the world economy.”

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Washington’s actions were “typical of scientific and technological hegemonism.”

The scope of the U.S. government’s actions appears to go beyond Nvidia and AMD. Other companies that make tool or design software have received similar letters in recent weeks informing them that the high-end technologies they export to China have been restricted, according to a person familiar with the situation, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss private deliberations.

A spokesman for the Commerce Department said it was conducting a review of policies related to China and might adopt new measures to keep advanced technologies out of the wrong hands.