(Bloomberg) -- Leaders of the largest US chipmakers told Biden officials this week that the administration should study the impact of restrictions on exports to China and pause before implementing new ones, according to people familiar with their discussions.
During meetings in Washington on Monday, Intel Corp.’s Pat Gelsinger, Nvidia Corp.’s Jensen Huang and Qualcomm Inc.’s Cristiano Amon warned that export controls risk harming US leadership of the industry. The Biden officials listened to the presentations but didn’t make any commitments, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks were private.
The chip industry is trying to navigate increasing tensions between China and the US. Companies are being forced to curb shipments to their largest market by Washington, which has cited national security concerns about the Asian nation acquiring certain capabilities. One of the executives against current rules restricting the export of artificial intelligence hardware to China, saying the policy hasn’t achieved the intended outcome of slowing China’s AI development.
The Biden team has been exploring ways to further tighten existing curbs — for example, by targeting chips made by Nvidia specifically for the China market, according to people familiar with the matter. In addition to the US restrictions, US chipmakers such as Micron Technology Inc. have faced actions by Beijing that have hurt their ability to do business in the country.
Representatives for the three companies declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the National Security Council.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday he agreed with the executives that the approach needs to be a “small yard, high fence” — effective but limited. He defended the administration’s actions to date as just that, saying the measures were targeted and had virtually no impact on US-China trade for most chips.
“The vast majority of sales of chips designed by the United States to China has continued unabated,” he said at the Aspen Security Forum. “It continues to this day.”
He hinted that more curbs could follow but that they would only be implemented after robust discussion with the affected companies.
“We are going to continue to look at very targeted, very specific restrictions on technology with national security and military applications and make judgments rigorously, carefully, methodically — and, yes, in deep consultation with our private sector,” he said.
During the discussion on Monday, Intel’s Gelsinger told Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials that further restricting what his company does in China puts at risk a key Biden policy of bringing back chip production to the US, the people said.
Without orders from Chinese customers, there will be much less need to go ahead with projects such as Intel’s planned factory complex in Ohio, the executive said, according to the people. Nvidia’s Huang said that limiting sales of some of his chips in China had merely made alternatives more popular.
Read More: Intel’s $20 Billion Ohio Chip Hub Will Be World’s Largest
Overall, the executives argued that while Chinese customers have been forced to buy more chips to do the work of banned products, that hasn’t significantly slowed them down. The availability and quality of software they’re using more than compensates for any hardware restrictions, they argued.
Gelsinger, who also spoke at the Aspen Security Forum, mentioned the meetings in Washington during his appearance on Wednesday.
“We did communicate a very important message on China,” he said. “Right now, China represents 25% to 30% of semiconductor exports. If I have 20% or 30% less market, I need to build less factories.”
It’s in the interest of the US to allow its chip companies access to the Chinese market in general because revenue from that country helps fuel research and development, he argued. And that’s needed to keep the nation’s lead in new technology such as quantum computing.
Qualcomm gets more than 60% of its revenue from the China region, where it supplies components to smartphone makers such as Xiaomi Corp. Gelsinger, who visited Beijing earlier this month to show off his company’s latest AI chips, counts the nation as Intel’s biggest sales region — with China providing about a quarter of its revenue. For Nvidia, China provides about a fifth of sales.
So far, chip equipment makers such as Applied Materials Inc. have taken the biggest hits to revenue, being forced to knock billions of dollars off their projections. But the restrictions, which companies fear will be extended to other classes of chips, are also affecting some device makers.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.