(Bloomberg) -- Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said that the US will take the “strongest possible” action to protect its national security when asked how the Commerce Department will respond to a recent chipmaking breakthrough in China.
“Every time we see something that’s concerning, we investigate it vigorously,” Raimondo said in an interview Monday with Bloomberg News, adding that the development is “deeply concerning.”
The remarks follow a surprisingly successful effort by China’s Huawei Technologies Co. to develop a smartphone with a relatively advanced processor. The company, blacklisted by the US, worked with partner Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. to manufacture the processor. The Mate Pro 60 phone went on sale in August, challenging Apple Inc.’s iPhone for customers — and showing that Huawei’s production capabilities were more sophisticated than thought.
Raimondo is under increasing pressure to act from Republicans who say that the SMIC chip demonstrates a clear violation of US sanctions against Huawei — and that the US should respond by fully cutting off both companies from their American suppliers.
Raimondo wouldn’t confirm that a formal investigation is underway into the situation, but her department’s Bureau of Industry and Security has said it is probing the “purported” 7-nanometer chip, which powers the Huawei phone.
“The investigations take time,” she said during a visit to Nashua, New Hampshire. “You know, we need them to stick. We need to gather information. So at this point, all I will say is that was concerning and we will take whatever action is the strongest possible in order to protect America.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that “the US has time and again abused export-control measures, and this is not in the interests of global and industrial supply chains.”
The US should deliver on its pledge not to try to contain China, she said.
Earlier: US Probes Made-in-China Chip as Tensions Flare Over Technology
When asked about the Huawei phone during congressional testimony in October, Raimondo said that BIS needs more resources to enforce its controls — a request she repeated last weekend at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
The US has blocked the sale of certain American technology to Huawei since 2019. Over the past few years, the Biden administration has also implemented sweeping controls on the export of advanced computing chips — and the tools use to make them — to the world’s second-largest economy.
Officials in Washington have written those export controls in coordination with their counterparts in the Netherlands and Japan, which are home to the world’s leading producers of chipmaking equipment: ASML Holding NV and Tokyo Electron Ltd. But it took several months to get Amsterdam and Tokyo on board with the China curbs, giving China time to stockpile equipment ahead of an anticipated crackdown.
Bloomberg News reported in October that SMIC produced the chip for Huawei using ASML’s so-called immersion deep ultraviolet machines, in combination with tools from other companies.
Read More: Controversial Chip in Huawei Phone Produced on ASML Machine
Asked whether the US is coordinating with the Netherlands in probing the SMIC chip, Raimondo again declined to confirm that an investigation is underway.
“But I would say as a matter of course, we would talk with our allies in doing this investigatory work,” she said. “We would talk with our allies, we would talk with companies, we will talk with our sources on the ground, etc.”
“We are in pretty regular contact with the Netherlands and with ASML because they are our partners in these export controls,” she continued. “I have been talking to them pretty regularly, not just about this investigation.”
--With assistance from Philip Glamann.
(Updates with comments from China’s Foreign Ministry.)
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