Updated Oct 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden's team to announce new export limits on AI chips to China

President Biden sits at a table at a Cabinet meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (middle) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (right).

President Biden speaks at a Cabinet meeting in June alongside Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (middle) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The Biden administration is planning to announce new controls on artificial intelligence chips and equipment that can be sold to China, administration officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: The new restrictions, likely to be announced early next week, will broaden a White House effort to prevent China from gaining a military advantage in AI.

  • The rules, issued by the Commerce Department, are designed to close loopholes on export controls it announced a year ago, and apply them to chips that are slightly less powerful than those covered under the initial guidelines — but still have advanced capabilities.
  • The controls also will limit the export of equipment used to produce advanced semiconductors, bringing the U.S. into line with regulations imposed by Japan and the Netherlands.
  • A White House official declined to comment.

Zoom out: The Biden administration is trying to walk a fine line in its approach to China, asserting its right to take action on matters of national security while insisting that it doesn't want to harm China's economy.

  • Over the summer, a trio of Cabinet officials made separate visits China to open up lines of communications and explain the administration's approach in person.
  • They also were trying to repair relations after the Chinese floated a spy balloon across the United States and President Biden ordered it shot down.
  • In a major speech this spring, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen articulated the Biden administration's approach.
  • "The United States will assert ourselves when our vital interests are at stake," Yellen said. "But we do not seek to 'decouple' our economy from China's."

Zoom in: Besides the export restrictions from October 2022, Biden signed an executive order in August that restricts private investments into Chinese companies in the semiconductor, AI and quantum computing industries.

  • The goal was restrict investment in certain industries and prevent the transfer of American know-how from top private equity and venture capital firms to Chinese companies.
  • The administration also wanted to ensure that other G-7 and European Union countries imposed similar restrictions.

Between the lines: The new announcement will come before an expected visit to Washington by Wang Yi, China's new foreign minister, in the coming weeks. He met with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Malta last month.

  • Biden's team is sensitive about making any new announcements — especially those that might be unwelcomed by Beijing — immediately before a high-profile visit.
  • But the U.S. government warned the Chinese that new restrictions on AI technology could be coming later this month, Reuters reported.
  • The Biden administration also is preparing for Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco in mid-November, though neither side has confirmed his attendance.

The U.S. and China have set up new working groups to discuss the economy and financial issues. Yellen hopes to use the improved communications to discuss "contentious" issues and gain fresh insight into China's economy, she told Axios last month.

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