According to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, chips created and marketed by many major American corporations are finding their way into the Chinese military. According to a report released last month, the Chinese army may have acquired processors and graphics processing units from Intel Corporation, NVIDIA Corporation, and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) for use in cutting-edge applications like artificial intelligence.
The report draws on publicly available purchase records from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (AI). The research examines more than 20,000 contracts from 2020 to pick out 11 where the PLA purchased these semiconductors from vendors who were not approved by the US Department of Commerce.
The analysis begins by examining 66,321 tenders released by the Chinese military to select 21,088 that asked for supplies of equipment, including technological goods. To identify the contracts that would have assisted the PLA in enhancing its AI capabilities, they were afterward examined for numerous keywords indicating CPUs, GPUs, microprocessors, and others.
The investigation was considerably constrained by this keyword analysis, which produced 323 contracts, 24 of which specifically addressed advanced items (GPUs, ASICs, and FPGAs). All of these are employed in artificial intelligence, and out of the 24, 11 also specified how many units the Chinese military wanted.
The CSET continues to issue a warning, noting that since its research is restricted to declassified records, the true number of orders placed by the PLA may be substantially greater. It states that the PLA had also granted over 2,000 classified contracts between March 2020 and December 2020, and any of these could be tied to AI technology. The report also acknowledges that it is impossible to know whether the products reached the PLA, but it does state that the vendors named in the contracts are entirely capable of doing so.
Each of the 11 contracts identified a specific item from Intel, NVIDIA, or AMD, and most of them included the quantity needed.
The majority of them were accounted for by NVIDIA and Xilinx (now AMD), which is not surprising given the prevalence of GPUs and FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) in AI applications. Additionally, one asked Intel for four processors, while some did not specify the exact specifications of the goods.
The U.S. government actively seeks out and imposes sanctions on organizations that it believes are collaborating with the Chinese military to supply that force with cutting-edge products of American origin that could be used against American national security interests. This is done through the Commerce Department. The CSET investigates further on this front and learns that the intermediaries who provided the PLA with the equipment were not a part of organizations that were subject to Commerce sanctions.
The report’s conclusion explains that because the U.S. government must balance geopolitics, the local economy, and national security considerations, it is limited in its capacity to prevent Chinese access to high-tech goods.