Arm China seeks solutions to US export controls with Huawei

Chip design firm in communication with Huawei-owned semiconductor firm HiSilicon following US move to halt exports of US technology to Chinese tech giant

Arm China is seeking solutions to US technology export controls that could limit its work with Chinese tech giant Huawei, it told Chinese reporters yesterday.

In a statement reported by Chinese media, Arm China, a joint venture between UK-based Arm Holdings and a group of Chinese investors, said it attaches great importance to its long-term partnership with Huawei-owned semiconductor firm HiSilicon, with which it has been actively communicating to seek appropriate solutions in line with current laws.

An earlier BBC report revealed that Arm has told its employees to stop “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei and its subsidiaries, noting that Arm’s chip designs are based on “US origin technology”.

This follows a move by the US Department of Commerce to block the transfer of US technology to Huawei under export administration regulations.

The US government agency said the decision was made after it concluded that Huawei is “engaged in activities that are contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests”.

It later granted a 90-day stay that would allow Huawei to maintain and support existing and currently fully operational networks and equipment, including software updates and patches, and “allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks”.

Although Huawei has been developing its own chips, such as the Kirin 980 for mobile devices and the newly minted Kunpeng 920 for servers, its processors are still based on designs licensed from Arm. Industry watchers have noted that Huawei would face a major setback if it loses access to Arm designs.

Read more about the US-Huawei saga

In an interview with Chinese media on 21 May 2019, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei said that even with Huawei’s ability to build its own chips, it will not exclude its US partners or seek to grow on its own.

Ren revealed that during the “peaceful period” before US export controls kicked in, half of Huawei’s chips came from US companies.

“Despite the much lower costs of our own chips, I would still buy higher-priced chips from the US,” he said. “We cannot be isolated from the world. Instead, we should become part of it.

“Our close relationships with US companies are the result of several decades of effort on both sides. These relationships won’t be destroyed by a piece of paper from the US government. As long as these companies can obtain approval from Washington, we will continue to buy in large volumes from them.

“It may be the case that they cannot obtain approval quickly. We have ways to go through this transition period. Once approval is granted, we will maintain our normal trade with these US companies and work together to build an information society for humanity.”

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