AMD, NVIDIA & Intel’s Advanced Chips Easily Available To Chinese Army Warns Report 

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Chips designed and sold by several large U.S. companies are making their way to the Chinese military outlined a new research report from the Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). The report, which was published last month uses publicly sourced purchase records from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to outline that processors and graphics processing units (GPUs) from Intel Corporation, NVIDIA Corporation and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc (AMD) might have made their way to the Chinese army to be used for advanced purposes such as artificial intelligence (AI). The report uses more than 20,000 contracts from 2020 to narrow down 11 that saw these semiconductors being bought by the PLA through contractors that were not sanctioned by the United States Department of Commerce.

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The report starts out by taking a look at 66,321 tenders published by the Chinese military to narrow down 21,088 that sought supplies of equipment including technology products. These were then scanned for several keywords mentioning processors, GPUs, microprocessors and others, to narrow down the contracts that would have helped the PLA in building its AI capabilities.

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This keyword analysis significantly narrowed down the scope of the research and led to 323 contracts out of which 24 explicitly mentioned advanced products (GPUs, ASICs and FPGAs). All of these are used in artificial intelligence, and of the 24, 11 also laid down the number of units demanded by the Chinese military.

CSET goes on to caution that the actual number of orders placed by the PLA could be significantly higher since its research is limited only to declassified records. It outlines that during the same time period, from March to December 2020, the PLA had also awarded close to 2,000 classified contracts and any of these could be related to AI products. Additionally, the report admits that there is no way to determine whether the products did make their way to the PLA, but mentions that the suppliers in the contracts are fully capable of delivering them.

Specific products from Intel, NVIDIA and AMD (Xilinx) requested by the PLA in its contracts. Image: Ryan Fedasiuk, Karson Elmgren, and Ellen Lu, "Silicon Twist: Managing the Chinese Military’s Access to AI Chips" (Center for Security and Emerging Technology, June 2022).

The 11 contracts each listed a specific product from either Intel, NVIDIA or AMD, and most of them also specified the number of units requested. NVIDIA and Xilinx (now AMD) accounted for the majority of these, which is unsurprising since GPUs and FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) are widely used for AI purposes. One also requested four processors from Intel and some did not lay out the precise nature of the products.

The U.S. government, through its Commerce Department actively tracks down and sanctions entities that it believes are working with the Chinese military to provide the latter with advanced American-origin products that can be used against the national security interests of the United States. On this front, the CSET digs a bit deeper to discover that the intermediaries supplying the PLA with the equipment were not part of entities sanctioned by Commerce.

One intermediary, SITONHOLY (Tianjin) Co., Ltd., is in fact an official NVIDIA distribution partner believes CSET and the company is also responsible for supplying Chinese universities with AI products.

Another, the Beijing Hengsheng Technology Co., Ltd., appears to be a front company to provide the Chinese government and military with technology products suggests the CSET. To bolster its case, the research report states that email addresses for Beijing Hengsheng are also used by "dozens" of other Beijing-based technology consulting companies.

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The report concludes by explaining that the U.S. government is constrained in its ability to eliminate Chinese access to advanced technology products since it has to strike a balance between geopolitics, the local industry and national security implications.

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