May 23, 2024

A group of U.S. lawmakers, including both Democrats and Republicans, is pressing the Biden administration for information about chip usage. The lawmakers aim to know the government’s plans to address China’s increasing adoption of RISC-V chip design technology. 

This comes in response to a recent report that raised concerns in both houses of Congress about China’s utilization of RISC-V technology. RISC-V, pronounced “risk five,” is a free, open-source chip design technology that competes with expensive proprietary solutions from companies like Arm Holdings and Intel. 

It is versatile and can be applied in various applications, from smartphone chips to advanced processors for artificial intelligence.

RISC-V’s Appeal and Its Dual Role in U.S. and China

RISC-V represents an alternative to costly proprietary technologies, making it an attractive choice for American companies like Qualcomm and Alphabet’s Google. 

However, this technology has also gained significant traction from numerous Chinese companies, prompting concerns about national security implications. The versatility and accessibility of RISC-V have made it a popular choice for both innovation and practical application. 

Notably, RISC-V is not subject to the broad export controls the United States has imposed on chip technology exports to China. Based on that, 18 lawmakers, including five Democrats, sent a letter to the Biden administration. 

They want to understand the government’s approach to prevent China from controlling RISC-V technology and potentially harming U.S. security and the economy. The lawmakers are particularly concerned about the implications of China’s extensive involvement in RISC-V technology.

The letter also raises questions about the potential application of existing executive orders that U.S. companies will require. This will include obtaining an export license before collaborating with Chinese counterparts on RISC-V technology. 

Lawmakers Await Clarity from Biden’s Administration

In the letter, the lawmakers stressed the importance of ensuring that contributors are dedicated to improving the technology rather than assisting China’s technological objectives and geopolitical interests.

In response to the lawmakers’ inquiries, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department stated that Secretary Gina Raimondo had received the letter. And he would respond through the appropriate channels. 

The Biden administration now faces the task of formulating a comprehensive response to these inquiries from bipartisan lawmakers. The ongoing debate surrounding China’s use of RISC-V technology highlights the complexities of technology transfer and national security in a globalized world.

It underscores the broader challenges associated with collaboration and interconnectedness. As this situation unfolds, policymakers must navigate a delicate balance between fostering innovation and safeguarding vital national interests. 

Striking this balance necessitates a nuanced approach that not only guards against potential threats but also fosters an environment where innovation can flourish

Furthermore, it emphasizes the persistent challenge of managing technology transfer in an era where information and ideas can traverse borders easily.

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