China clamps down on exports of drones and supercomputers

The export controls will come into effect on Aug. 15

China plans to limit exports of advanced drones and supercomputers for national security reasons.

The new export controls on certain drone and high-performance computing technologies will come into effect Aug. 15, Chinese government regulators said Friday. Affected vendors will have to apply for a government permit to ship their technology outside China.

The regulations target more advanced drones that can be flown for at least an hour, "beyond the natural sight of the operator" and function more as an unmanned aerial vehicles.

Shenzhen-based DJI, a major Chinese builder of drones, seems confident the new export controls won't disrupt its business.

"The recent restrictions will not impact any of our products, which are focused on the consumer sector," DJI said in an email on Monday. The company's Phantom 3 drone, for instance, can travel up to 2 kilometers from the pilot, and is designed to fly for 23 minutes on a full battery charge.

As for the restrictions on high-performance computers, China's upcoming export controls target machines with a running speed greater than 8T flops (floating-point operations per second) -- the collective processing power of about four-and-a-half PlayStation 4s.

China is currently home to the world's fastest supercomputer, with a performance of over 33,000 Teraflops. And the country is building more supercomputers, some of which are using homegrown chips.

In a posting on a ministry's website, Chinese regulators said no more abut why the export controls were needed, other than to "maintain national security."

Both drones and supercomputers, however, can be used for military purposes. In fact, earlier this year, U.S. authorities accused four Chinese supercomputing centers of deploying Intel-powered hardware to conduct nuclear weapons testing.

In response, U.S. government agencies forced Intel to stop selling its Xeon processors to the Chinese supercomputer builders.

The Chinese parties, however, have rejected the U.S. accusations.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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