U.S. Reviews Risks of China's Use of Open-Source RISC-V Chip Technology

The U.S. is reviewing China's use of open-source RISC-V chip tech, fearing it could undermine U.S. leadership and national security, as major Chinese firms adopt the technology, intensifying the U.S.-China tech rivalry.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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U.S. Reviews Risks of China's Use of Open-Source RISC-V Chip Technology

U.S. Reviews Risks of China's Use of Open-Source RISC-V Chip Technology

The U.S. Department of Commerce is conducting a thorough review of China's involvement in the open-source RISC-V chip technology, which has become a growing alternative to proprietary technologies like Arm Holdings. This review is driven by national security concerns, as major Chinese tech firms, including Alibaba, are using RISC-V, intensifying the strategic competition over advanced chip technology between the U.S. and China.

RISC-V is an open-source instruction set architecture that can be used to build a wide range of chips, from smartphones to advanced processors for artificial intelligence. The U.S. is concerned that China's use of this technology could lead to a situation similar to the previous controls on transferring 5G technology to China, which created roadblocks for U.S. firms working in international standards bodies where China was also a participant, risking U.S. leadership in the field.

The Commerce Department is evaluating potential risks and exploring appropriate measures, while also seeking to avoid obstructing the participation of U.S. companies in international collaborations on RISC-V technology. U.S. lawmakers have pressed the Biden administration to prevent China from achieving dominance in RISC-V technology and leveraging it at the expense of U.S. national and economic security.

Members of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have expressed concerns that the freely available nature of RISC-V undermines U.S. efforts to restrict advanced chip sales to China. The committee has called on the Commerce Department to address potential risks of RISC-V being used to aid China's geopolitical interests.

Why this matters: The outcome of the Commerce Department's review will likely shape the trajectory of U.S.-China technological competition and influence policies regarding the transfer of advanced chip technologies. As China forges ahead with RISC-V, using it to develop desktop and server-grade processors, the U.S. faces the challenge of balancing national security concerns with the need to maintain its leadership in the global development of this open-source technology.

The Commerce Department is working to review potential risks and assess whether there are appropriate actions it can take, but it also noted the need to tread carefully to avoid harming U.S. companies that are part of international groups working on RISC-V technology. The review is set against the backdrop of previous restrictions on transferring 5G technology to China, which have highlighted the difficulties for U.S. companies in global standards organizations.

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. reviewing China's involvement in open-source RISC-V chip tech due to national security concerns.
  • RISC-V is an alternative to proprietary chip tech like Arm, used by major Chinese firms like Alibaba.
  • U.S. fears China's RISC-V use could undermine U.S. leadership, as happened with 5G tech transfer restrictions.
  • U.S. lawmakers urge Biden admin to prevent China from dominating RISC-V and leveraging it against U.S. interests.
  • Commerce Dept. review aims to balance national security with maintaining U.S. leadership in RISC-V development.