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US lawmakers angry after Huawei unveils laptop with new Intel AI chip

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By Reuters | Updated: April 13, 2024

WASHINGTON, April 12 (Reuters) – Republican U.S. lawmakers on Friday criticized the Biden administration after sanctioned Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei unveiled a laptop this week powered by an Intel AI chip.

The United States placed Huawei on a trade restriction list in 2019 for violating Iran sanctions, part of a broader effort to hobble Beijing’s technological advances. Placement on the list means the company’s suppliers have to seek a special, difficult-to-obtain license before shipping to it.

One such license, issued by the Trump administration, has allowed Intel (INTC.O) to ship central processors to Huawei for use in laptops since 2020. China hardliners had urged the Biden administration to revoke that license, but many grudgingly accepted that it would expire later this year and not be renewed.

Huawei’s unveiling Thursday of its first AI-enabled laptop, the MateBook X Pro powered by Intel’s new Core Ultra 9 processor, shocked and angered them, because it suggested to them that the Commerce Department had approved shipments of the new chip to Huawei.

“One of the greatest mysteries in Washington, DC is why the Department of Commerce continues to allow U.S. technology to be shipped to Huawei” Republican Congressman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the House of Representatives select committee on China, said in a statement to Reuters.

A source familiar with the matter said the chips were shipped under a preexisting license. They are not covered by recent broad-cased restrictions on AI chip shipments to China, the source and another person said.

The Commerce Department and Intel declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The reaction is a sign of growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to thwart Huawei’s rise, nearly five years after it was added to a trade restriction list.

In August, it shocked the world with a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by sanctioned Chinese chipmaker SMIC, becoming a symbol of China’s technological resurgence despite Washington’s ongoing efforts to cripple its capacity to produce advanced semiconductors.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing this week, Kevin Kurland, an export enforcement official, said Washington’s restrictions on Huawei have had a “significant impact” on it access to U.S. technology. He also stressed that the goal was not necessarily to stop Huawei from growing but to keep it from misusing U.S. technology for “malign activities.”

But the remarks did little to stem frustration among Republican China hawks following the news about Huawei’s new laptop.

“These approvals must stop,” Republican congressman Michael McCaul said in a statement to Reuters. “Two years ago, I was told licenses to Huawei would stop. Today, it doesn’t seem as though the policy has changed.”

© Thomson Reuters 2024

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