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The U.S. bans technology exports to Chinese semiconductor and drone companies, calling them security

Security threats Sanction applies to chip company SMIC and drone maker DJI, Trump administration says The logo of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (Aly Song/Reuters)

The Trump administration has added prominent Chinese semiconductor and drone manufacturers to an export blacklist, an attempt to continue exerting pressure on Beijing in the final weeks of the Trump presidency. The Commerce Department said it has placed Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. or SMIC; drone maker DJI; and dozens of other Chinese companies and universities on the Entity List, which bans the export of U.S. technology to the entities unless the exporter receives a government license. But national security experts and some lawmakers said that the semiconductor export control is virtually meaningless because of the way Commerce wrote the rule governing its application. The ban applies only to those technologies that are “uniquely” capable of producing semiconductors at 10 nanometers in size or below. Because nearly all semiconductor manufacturing tools are capable of making nanometers of different sizes, only a tiny fraction will effectively be barred, said one industry executive speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), foreign affairs committee ranking member, said the rules “may be more bark than bite.” Said the industry executive: “They may as well have done nothing because nothing’s restricted. You have to ask yourself why did they even bother?” Federal prosecutors accuse Zoom executive of working with the Chinese government to surveil users and suppress video calls The sanction follows “evidence of activities between SMIC and entities of concern in the Chinese military-industrial complex,” the department said in a statement. “We will not allow advanced U.S. technology to help build the military of an increasingly belligerent adversary,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said of SMIC in a statement. “Between SMIC’s relationships of concern with the military-industrial complex, China’s aggressive application of military-civil fusion mandates and state-directed subsidies, SMIC perfectly illustrates the risks of China’s leverage of U.S. technology to support its military modernization.” The Commerce Department said it was adding DJI for enabling high-tech surveillance in China, which the agency called a human rights abuse. The additions also include several construction companies, among them China Communications Construction Co., for helping China militarize disputed territory it has occupied in the South China Sea. Also added to the list were several universities, in Beijing, Nanjing, and Tianjin, for alleged actions including trade-secret theft or “acquiring and attempting to acquire U.S.-origin items in support of programs for the People’s Liberation Army.” The Entity List sanctions show that cutting trade ties with China remains a top priority for the Trump administration’s many China hawks, who view the country’s growing technological and military might with increasing alarm. Similar concerns also have taken root in Congress, among Republicans and Democrats, and could continue during a Biden administration. Biden likely to remain tough on Chinese tech like Huawei, but with more help from allies The Entity List has become a favorite Trump administration tool to punish China and now includes more than 300 Chinese entities. The Commerce Department, which maintains the list, has previously used it against the Chinese telecom company Huawei and against Chinese entities engaged in alleged