US blacklists Chinese supercomputer organizations over military support

The US is worried China might claim an edge in combat.

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TIANJIN, CHINA - MAY 19:  Visitors watch the prototype of Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-3 at World Intelligence Expo as part of the 2nd World Intelligence Congress (WIC 2018) on May 19, 2018 in Tianjin, China. The 2nd World Intelligence Congress (WIC 2018) centering on changes and opportunities brought by AI technologies will be held from May 16 to 18 in Tianjin.  (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images)
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The US continues to clamp down on Chinese technology, and this time it's aiming at the mainframes powering China's military. The Commerce Department has added seven supercomputer companies and organizations to its Entity List, banning US companies from supplying equipment or otherwise doing business. They build supercomputers that contribute to "destabilizing" military modernization efforts, nuclear weapons and hypersonic technology, American officials said.

The targeted outfits include Sunway, the Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center and Tianjin Phytium Information Technology as well as supercomputing centers in Jinan, Shenzhen, Wuxi and Zhengzhou.

It's not yet certain how China will respond besides anger. It has been taking steps to reduce its dependence on American technology through domestic production, but US trade bans have limited those efforts. Many of the factories producing cutting-edge chips are located outside of mainland China and often depend partly on American tech, leaving the nation with little choice but to either invest heavily in domestic production or else use outdated manufacturing techniques.

Unlike similar bans imposed on companies like Huawei and DJI, there are no accusations of spying or human rights abuses to justify the move. This is strictly about reining in technological development for China's military. With that said, it's notable that supercomputer trade bans are considered important political tools — it's not just the factories or the weapons themselves that raise concerns.

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