Phytium, portraying itself as a commercial company targeting global chip giants such as Intel, has not published links to the People’s Liberation Army’s research weapons.
The hypersonic testing facility is located at the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Center (CARDC), which overshadowed its military links, although it was operated by the PLA general, according to public documents and several former officials and analysts said. On the conditions of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Phytium̵7;s partnership with CARDC is a prime example of China’s quiet control of civilian technology for strategic military purposes – with the help of American technology. Trade is not illegal But it’s an important link in a global high-tech supply chain that’s hard to control, as the same computer chips that can be used for commercial data centers can power military supercomputers.
Hypersonics refer to new technologies that can propel missiles at more than five times the speed of sound and potentially evade today’s defenses.
The Trump administration was slated to put Phytium and a number of other Chinese companies on the export blacklist late last year. But time is over, as former US officials said. The list will block American-made technology from flowing to those companies, and experts say it will slow the progress of China’s supersonic weapons program, as well as other sophisticated weapons and guarding capabilities. Be careful that is more powerful
The Prescription Package is now awaiting action by the Ministry of Commerce.
Phytium did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
American companies often contend that export controls affect their bottom line while encouraging China to send businesses elsewhere and develop their own industries. But analysts noted that US policy is that American technology should not aid the Chinese military, and that reducing future advances of the PLA is worth the cost in the lost business.
The Phytium case also highlights the dilemma of Taiwan, a self-governing liberal democracy strategically between the United States and China. Taiwan relies on Washington to protect against Beijing aggression, which US officials say is a growing risk, but Taiwan’s firms rely on the Chinese market, which accounts for 35 percent of Taiwan’s trade.
As tensions between China and the United States escalate, questions arise about the appropriate limits for American and Taiwanese companies doing business with China.
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Semiconductors are the brains of modern electronic devices, enabling advances in everything from clean energy to quantum computers. These products are currently China’s top imports, valued at more than $ 300 billion annually and are the top priorities in China’s latest five-year plan for the country’s development.
In January 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tianjin, 70 miles from Beijing and home of Phytium, and discussed the importance of the company in the country’s innovation efforts. It is “the leading independent core chip provider in China,” the company markets microprocessors for servers and video games. But its main shareholders and customers are the Chinese state and military, according to government records.
Phytium was established in August 2014 according to business registration records in the government database. It was created by a joint venture of the state-owned China Electronic Corp. (CEC) group of companies, the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin and the Tianjin municipal government, according to the record.
The National Supercomputer Center is a laboratory run by the National Defense Technology University (NUDT), a leading military research institution, whose current and former presidents have been generals of the PLA.
Phytium’s ownership has changed hands over the years. But shareholders often have a link to the PLA.
“Phytium acts like an independent trading company,” said Eric Lee, a researcher at the Project 2049 Institute. The Northern Virginia tanks are focused on strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific. But most of them are ex-military officers from NUDT. ”
In the backcountry of China is Mianyang, a city in southwestern Sichuan Province, a center for nuclear weapons research. It is also home to the nation’s largest aerodynamic research center: CARDC.
The CARDC, which has identified 18 wind tunnels, is heavily involved in research into hypersonic weapons, according to former US official and US and Australian researchers, Director Fan Zhaolin is the chief general. But he has a portrait in a civilian suit on the center’s website.
The center is on the US trade blacklist, known as the “Corporate List” since 1999 due to participation in In 2016, Commerce increased restrictions on facilities.
CARDC said Tai Ming Cheung, director of the University of California San Diego Institute of Conflict and Global Cooperation, said, “At the heart of China’s supersonic research and development,” said CARDC.
The Research Center and Fan did not reply to an email requesting comment.
China’s major investment in hypersonics is a key focus at the Pentagon.
“The only way to reliably see hypersonic vehicles is from space, which makes it a challenge,” said Mark J. Lewis, until recently, director of defense research and technology. Of the Pentagon If it was traveling at supersonic speed – going at least a mile per second would give the missile defense system very little time to figure out what it was and how to stop it, he said.
Hypersonics is an important and emerging military technology, said Lewis, executive director of the Institute of Emerging Technology of the Defense Industry Association. China could target naval ships and air bases in the Pacific, he said, adding that conventional cruise missiles would take an hour or two to reach their target, while hypersonic missiles could do so in minutes.
“It’s very worrying,” he said.
In 2014, the US Air Force published an unidentified report on air warfare technology, including hypersonics. “Anyone can pick up this document,” Lewis said. Our feet are out of the gas. No sense of urgency and mercilessness “
At the same time, the Chinese read the American research. Their scientists began appearing at the US conferences. They started investing, “They saw that hypersonics could give them a military advantage,” Lewis said, “and they did it.”
China, unlike the United States, has adopted a hypersonic weapon – medium-range supersonic aircraft.
Iain Boyd, director of the National Center for Security, said that hundreds to thousands of different atmospheric configurations, heating, vehicle lifting and traction must be analyzed to create a hypersonic missile that would It is too expensive and time consuming to perform a single physical test, said Iain Boyd, director of the National Security Center. An initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder, “If you don’t have a supercomputer, it can take ten years,” he said.
In May 2016, CARDC released a “petascale” supercomputer that will aid in the aerodynamic design of hypersonic missiles and other aircraft, the petascale computer can handle one trillion calculations per second.
In 2018 and 2019, CARDC scientists published papers showcasing their supercomputers and observed that their calculations were made with Phytium’s 1500 and 2000 series chips, although the paper doesn’t mention the research. Hypersonic weapons
CARDC, Phytium, Military University and Tianjin’s Supercomputer Laboratory are developing faster computers that can handle trillions of “exascale” speeds per second. The supercomputer called Tianhe-3 is powered by Phytium’s 2000 series chips, according to Chinese media.
To produce such chips, Phytium requires the latest design tools.
CARDC and other PLA agencies are subject to US sanctions. But the Chinese military still has access to US semiconductor technology through companies such as Phytium.
One Silicon Valley company that treats Phytium as a customer is Cadence Design Systems Inc., which awarded Phytium at the 2018 conference for its presentation. “Best Paper” on how to use software for high-performance chip applications. The other is Synopsys, which is headquartered eight miles from Cadence in San Jose, Calif.
“I haven’t met a chip design company that hasn’t been using Synopsys or Cadence in a decade,” said Stewart Randall, a Shanghai-based consultant who sells automated design software to a top Chinese chipmaker.
Synopsys declined to comment. The timing did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Phytium microprocessors are manufactured at a jewelery factory outside of Taipei by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which today produces some of the world’s most advanced chips, surpassing the United States.
TSMC, Taiwan’s largest chipmakers, is in an unusual position for chip manufacturing, “which will eventually be used for military purposes in both the United States and China,” said the Institute’s Fellow Si-fu Ou. National Defense and Security Research, a mindset co-founded by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense.
For example, a chip maker used in American advanced weapons, including Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, TSMC announced last year that it would build a $ 12 billion plant in Arizona in response to concerns of Trump administration on semiconductor supply chain security
“These private companies do business and do not take into account factors such as national security,” Ou said, adding that Taiwan, as a small country, is unprofitable and will issue export bans. The relatively complete exit, while Taiwan is somewhat looser and more vulnerable, ”Ou said.
TSMC said in an email to The Washington Post that it complies with all export laws and controls.
TSMC has a “rigorous evaluation and inspection process for shipments to specific entities subject to export control restrictions,” said spokeswoman Nina Kao. For military use as alleged in your email. “
The final stage of the Phytium chip design is managed by Alchip, another Taiwanese company that does business directly with TSMC’s plant on behalf of Phytium.
Alchip Chief Financial Officer Daniel Wang said Phytium had signed an agreement stating that its chips are not intended for military use.Phytium has told Alchip that its customers are civilians and 1500 series chips. And the 2000s were made specifically for commercial servers and personal computers, Wang said.
However, Alchip’s 2018 press release indicated that the company had been working with the “China National Supercomputer Center”, which was on the Commerce blacklist for three years at that point because of its involvement in “nuclear explosion” activity.
Sanford Bernstein analyst Mark Li said that unless Phytium is sanctioned, TSMC cannot be ruled out. “It is not TSMC’s duty to police the United States,” he said. “That’s what politicians have to decide. China is the largest semiconductor market. If you give up when your business is legally permitted, you cannot explain it to shareholders. ”
Shih reported from Taipei, Taiwan, Pei Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.