Main menu


China overtook the United States in key technologies. Will the new law help?

featured image

Just weeks before the House and Senate end a 13-month debate and pass the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, China’s leading state-backed chip maker has given the world a bit of a shock. Cleared major technical hurdles.

Experts produce semiconductors with circuits of extremely small dimensions (about 1/10,000th the thickness of a human hair), comparable to those made in Taiwan, which supplies both China and the West. I am still evaluating how China has leapt ahead in its efforts to do so. As with nuclear tests and precision-guided missiles, advances in chip manufacturing are now under scrutiny as a way of defining national power, so the Biden administration has decided to move highly specialized equipment to manufacture these chips to China. has gone to great lengths to protect it from the hands of It was during the previous Cold War.

Whether China can take advantage of this breakthrough on a large scale remains to be seen. It may take years. But one lesson was clear. Congress will debate, modify, and debate whether and how to support research on U.S. chip makers and a wide range of other technologies, from advanced batteries to robotics to quantum computing. is doing. Washington will take years to get its act together.

“Our Congress is moving at political speed,” said former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who heads the National Security Committee on Artificial Intelligence.A World of Fragile Supply Chains Like advanced semiconductor manufacturing in “The Chinese government is moving at commercial speed.”

In China, the move to catch up and manufacture cutting-edge chips is part of the “Made in China 2025” program. That effort began in 2015. Few in Congress are willing to admit this, but as President Biden promised on Thursday, the tech funded by the US in signing the bill largely duplicates China’s list. .

This is classic industrial policy, although leaders in both parties avoid the term. The term conveys a sense of a state-led plan that is the exact opposite of most Republicans, offering direct support and tax credits to some of America’s big corporations, which has angered some Democrats. I’m showering

But 2025 is not that far away. That means the money will flow in while China and other competitors move on to their next set of goals. Meanwhile, the U.S. semiconductor industry is in decline, and even though the underlying technology was born here and Silicon Valley got its name, no cutting-edge chips are made in the U.S.

None of this means that America’s competitiveness is doomed. What once seemed like a 10-foot-tall technological giant in the late 1980s and early 1990s was Japan’s biggest breakthrough in mobile computing, the Windows operating system, and even chip manufacturing. China is discovering it, just as it missed some of the Money alone does not guarantee technological superiority. But it helps.

It took Congress much longer to reach the same conclusion. Still, China turned out to be one of the few issues where Republicans and Democrats can work together — the bill passed the House Thursday by a vote of 243 to 187. Twenty-four Republicans voted in favor. This comes after Senate Majority Leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin of Virginia, his third-generation Sen. to oppose the bill. on wednesday.

China was quick to denounce the bill as an isolationist move by Americans to free them from dependence on foreign technology. It’s a strategy called “decoupling” that China itself is trying to replicate.

“No restrictions or repressions will hinder China’s progress,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing.

But the big question is whether the efforts were wasted because Congress was slow to realize America’s competitive shortcomings. Biden and lawmakers tried to garner support for the bill by describing the chips in everything from refrigerators to thermostats to cars as his 21st-century “oil,” but the phrase was used by him. was already obsolete 30 years ago.

In the late 1980s, Andrew S. Grove, one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley and an early leader of the Intel Corporation, warned of the danger of the United States becoming a “technology colony” of Japan.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company produces approximately 90% of state-of-the-art semiconductors. We sell to both China and the United States.

Also, Taiwan Semiconductor and Samsung are building new manufacturing facilities in the United States in response to political pressure to address concerns about their supply chains in the United States, but the end result is that production in the U.S. will be only a single digit percentage.

“It is unacceptable and unsafe to rely on Taiwan for sophisticated chips,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimond told the Aspen Security Forum last week. As the demand for more sophisticated chips grows, new generations of cars will require more and more semiconductors, so there is “not enough domestic supply.”

She argued that the bill’s $52 billion in federal aid would be backed by private money and turned into “hundreds of billions” of investments. Politicians used the argument they had long used to justify taking on new risky spy satellite technology and stealth drones was explained as critical defense spending rather than industrial policy. If so, I knew it would be easy to sell to Congress.

But now that logic is out of my mind. Defense contractors need cutting-edge commercial chips not just for the F-35, but for artificial intelligence systems that may one day change the nature of the battlefield. The old distinction between military and commercial technology has all but disappeared. So, in order to get the bill passed, the administration enlisted Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in a pressure campaign, arguing that future weapons cannot be reliant on foreign suppliers.

The bill’s drafters say they are behind in restructuring the industry, but they are better off starting today than watching America lose its lead. Senator Todd Young said that while China’s recent progress was “cool,” he believed “no one can innovate the United States if we mobilize so many resources.” .

Another advantage of the United States is its “economic and geopolitical relationships with other countries,” says Young, a Republican from Indiana. “China has no friends. They have dependent states.”

Innovation is America’s strength. Microprocessors were invented here. But America’s vulnerability lies in manufacturing. China is not the only competitor. To extract cash from Congress, Intel and others have pointed out that Germany and other allies are trying to lure Germany and other allies into building “fabs” (airtight, clean manufacturing centers for chips) on their own territory.

But it was China that finally won the vote.

One of the first evaluations of a new Chinese chip by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation was by researchers at a company called TechInsights.

After reverse-engineering the Chinese-made chip, they concluded that it used circuits that were only 7 nanometers wide. As recently as 2020, Chinese manufacturers were struggling to get below his 40-nanometer mark.

Experts say the chip, made for cryptocurrency mining, may be based on Taiwan Semiconductor or stolen. For now, Taiwan Semiconductor remains the world’s most important single manufacturer, and its sprawling facility near Taipei may be the island’s greatest defense against aggression. cannot afford to risk And the United States cannot afford to destroy it.

But that delicate balance won’t last forever. So China has both commercial and geopolitical motives to build the fastest chip in the world, and the US has competitive motives to keep Beijing from getting the technology to do so. It is his ultimate 21st century arms race.

A generation ago in the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, “governments could afford to sit on the sidelines” and wanted private companies to invest, Schumer said Wednesday. Now, he said, “we cannot stand on the sidelines.”

Katie Edmondson contributed to the report.