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US targets Huawei with tighter chip export rules

BBC Technology 15 May 2020 05:18
Man holding a phoneImage copyright Reuters

The US has announced new export controls aimed at limiting Chinese technology giant Huawei's access to semiconductor technology.

The new rule bars semiconductor-makers that use US technology and software in chip design from shipping to Huawei without US government permission.

It is the latest US action to target Huawei, which US officials view as a national security threat.

China threatened to retaliate against US tech firms.

The tightened controls come a year after the US moved to cut off Huawei, the world's second largest smart phone maker, from access to US-made semiconductor chips, which form the backbone of most computer and phone systems.

In response, the company and others in China accelerated efforts to manufacture such chips domestically.

US Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross said that those efforts were "still dependent on US technologies", and accused Huawei of taking steps "to undermine" earlier export controls.

The new US rule, to be published on Friday, applies to foreign-made items, using US technology. It exempts equipment or software made or shipped within the next 120 days - a move meant to limit economic harm.

"This is a licensing requirement. It does not necessarily mean that things are denied," a senior State Department official said. "We tend to approach Huawei with some concern but this is a measure that gives the US government visibility into what is moving."

'Cut off the relationship'

This week, he moved to restrict US government pension funds from investing in Chinese companies. He said on Wednesday he could "cut off the whole relationship".

It has pressured allies, including the UK and Germany, to bar Huawei from their networks and sued the company for technology theft and doing business with Iran, in violation of US sanctions.

China on Friday threatened to place US companies on an "unreliable entity list", according to a report in the country's Global Times.

Making life difficult

As well as putting pressure on its microchip business, the US trade blacklist has made life very difficult for Huawei's smartphone business.

Its latest phones can no longer embed Google Mobile Services, which include important features such as maps and the Google Play app store.

Luckily, Huawei may have found a loophole.

Its latest is the P30 Pro New Edition. It looks almost just like the original P30 Pro, which was released before the US trade blacklist. But the New Edition has more memory and storage - and now comes in silver. And because it's technically a P30 Pro, rather than a P40 Pro, it also comes with the full suite of Google services.

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