February 7, 2023

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Japanese tech leaders warn Beijing will survive US chip sanctions

Tech leaders in Japan have warned that recent US chip export controls are unlikely to quash China’s advances in artificial intelligence and supercomputers, calling into question the long-term effectiveness of the sanctions.

The warnings from Sony’s chief technology officer and NEC’s chief executive come as Washington tries to persuade the Netherlands and Japan, both big players in the global chipmaking industry, to finalize a trilateral deal that would impose further restrictions on China Obtain tools for making chips.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Sony’s technology chief Hiroaki Kitano said he expects the US-led sanctions to “temporarily affect” China’s ability to source semiconductors, but added that it was “quite possible” that its global Presence in the field of AI will continue to increase.

“The driving force of AI [development] in China is that they have access to very large data sets. I’m not sure what kind of long-term effects [the US export curbs] can have there,” said Kitano.

In a recent media session, NEC chief Takayuki Morita also cast doubt on the long-term effectiveness of Washington’s measures aimed at slowing China’s ability to develop chips and prevent it from obtaining advanced semiconductors that can be used for military purposes .

“Personally, I think that the US-China technology dispute over chips could possibly slow down China’s technological progress, but the overall trend will not change,” Morita said. “It is not possible to ignore China’s technological competitiveness and it will become one of the forces [to reckon with] in the long run.”

The October sanctions imposed by Washington are the toughest technical measures President Joe Biden has introduced to counter Chinese advances, but the broader impact so far seems more limited than it was when Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei cut supply chains, businesses and government was excised That’s what officials in Japan said. This move hit Sony and other companies that supply components to Huawei hard.

Analysts said the latest measures are likely to accelerate China’s efforts to expand its domestic chip industry, which is part of the Communist Party’s “Made in China 2025” roadmap to become a world leader in AI and quantum computing.

Kitano said Sony is unlikely to be affected by the US export restrictions as its main AI research centers are located in the US and Europe. People close to the company said Sony has also significantly reduced its exposure to Chinese suppliers as a result of the Huawei fallout.

NEC also doesn’t expect to be affected by the sanctions as the company focuses on facial recognition and software. Its presence in the Chinese market is also limited due to privacy concerns, Morita said.

Sony’s Kitano said a big question is whether China can maintain its existing standards for R&D in terms of the quality of its engineers.

US employees — as well as support staff from American chip equipment manufacturers and other suppliers, including Applied Materials and Lam Research — left Chinese semiconductor companies like Yangtze Memory Technology shortly after Washington imposed its export restrictions that prevent US citizens and green card holders from supporting the Chinese semiconductor industry.

“It is difficult to predict how it will turn out whether China can sustain advanced research and development in the current environment,” Kitano said.