China Looks To Expand Computing Power Amidst US Sanctions

Beijing China Henry Chen Unsplash

China prioritising expansion of core computing capacity as basis for digital economy, say top officials, as US cracks down

China is prioritising the expansion of its base of computing power as a key factor in fuelling the growth of its digital economy and driving toward economic self-sufficiency, top officials have said, amidst a trade war with the US that has focused on limiting China’s tech ambitions.

Jin Zhuanglong, the head of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), told a conference that the country now has a total computing capacity of 197 EFLOPS, second after the US, referring to a unit equal to one quintillion floating-point operations per second.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2023 China Computational Power Conference in Yinchuan, Jin said more efforts would be made to enhance independent innovation in areas such as computing algorithms and key chips such as graphical processing units (GPUs), used for AI computing.

He said computing power had become a key productivity tool and was “the cornerstone of the digital and intelligent transformation of the whole society”.

data centre processing china

Computing power

Jin said 41 percent of China’s economic output is generated by its digital economy, while the MIIT-affiliated China Academy of Information and Communications Technology projected that one yuan invested into boosting computing power would boost China’s gross domestic product by 3 to 4 yuan.

Deputy MIIT minister Zhang Yunming said at the same event that China’s average annual growth rate in computing power has attained nearly 30 percent over the past five years, while AI computing power has been growing by 45 percent.

The ministers’ remarks come as the US rolls out increasingly restrictive measures designed to block technologies such as advanced GPUs and or high-end chipmaking equipment from being sold to Chinese firms.

Tech war

A US executive order earlier this month blocks US investments into key economic sectors in China including semiconductors, quantum computing and AI, while the administration is reportedly also considering banning Chinese firms from accessing the power of advanced AI chips via US cloud services.

The US introduced export measures last October that prevent domestic companies from selling high-end chips or chipmaking equpment to Chinese companies, and Japan and the Netherlands have more recently introduced similar measures.