President Joe Biden’s administration is under pressure from some lawmakers to forbid American companies from working on a freely available chip technology that is widely used in China, opening a new front in the U.S.-China tech conflict that could fundamentally alter how the international technology sector collaborates.
It all comes down to RISC-V, or “risk five,” an open-source technology that competes with pricey proprietary technology from British semiconductor and software design giant Arm Holdings. From smartphone chips to cutting-edge artificial intelligence computers, RISC-V can be a significant component.
Some senators are pressing Biden’s administration to take action on RISC-V on the basis of national security, including two Republican chairs of House of Representatives committees, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and Democratic Senator Mark Warner.
The congressmen voiced worry that Beijing is utilising an atmosphere of open collaboration among American businesses to promote its own semiconductor industry, which might weaken the U.S. position in the chip industry and aid China in modernising its armed forces. Their remarks are the first significant attempt to impose limitations on RISC-V development being done by American businesses.
Chairman of the House select committee on China, Representative Mike Gallagher, said in a statement to Reuters that the Commerce Department should “require any American person or company to receive an export licence prior to engaging with PRC (People’s Republic of China) entities on RISC-V technology.”
These proposals for RISC-V regulation are the most recent in a fight between the United States and China over chip technology that heated up last year with broad export limits that the Biden administration has promised to revise this month.
“To circumvent American domination of the intellectual property required to design chips, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is abusing RISC-V. Representative Michael McCaul, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement to Reuters that Americans shouldn’t be backing a PRC tech transfer policy that weakens American export control regulations.
McCaul stated that if the Bureau of Industry and Security—the division of the Commerce Department responsible for export-control regulations—does not take action, he will pursue legislative action.
The bureau “is constantly reviewing the technology landscape and threat environment, and continually assessing how to best apply our export control policies to protect national security and safeguard core technologies,” a representative for the Commerce Department said in a statement.
In a statement to Reuters, Rubio said that “communist China is developing open-source chip architecture to evade our sanctions and expand its chip industry.” China will eventually overtake us as the world leader in chip design if we don’t expand our export controls to address this threat.
“A dramatic paradigm shift is needed,” Warner said in a statement to Reuters. “I fear that our export-control laws are not equipped to deal with the challenge of open-source software, whether in advanced semiconductor designs like RISC-V or in the area of AI.”
A nonprofit foundation with its headquarters in Switzerland is in charge of RISC-V, which coordinates the work of for-profit businesses to develop the technology.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a division of the Pentagon, later provided financing for the RISC-V technology, which originated in Berkeley University of California labs. Its developers have compared it to open technologies like Ethernet, USB, and even the internet, which rely on contributions from all around the world and accelerate and reduce the cost of innovation.