Intel Exec Talks Up China As Sanctions Threat Looms

Beijing China Henry Chen Unsplash

Senior Intel China executive talks up country’s unique opportunities as US chip firms lobby against further export restrictions

A senior Intel executive has talked up the “opportunities” the company sees in China, ranging from desktop and server chips to 5G and electric vehicles, even as the US government considers further export controls targeting the world’s second-largest economy.

The interview is the latest sign that US tech companies are seeking to shore up confidence in China, one of their most important markets, following major sanctions imposed by the US last October.

“For Intel, the laptop, desktop and server products areas are quite important, and [we] need to seize the opportunity of recovery in the Chinese market,” Jiqiang Song, director of Intel Labs China, said in a recent interview with local tech media outlet Shenwang, according to a translation by the South China Morning Post.

He said China rapid development in fields such as 5G and electric vehicles, including advanced in-car entertainment systems and autonomous driving, presents unique opportunities for the company.

Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger. Image Credit: Intel
Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger. Image Credit: Intel

Tech confidence

“All these opportunities I have mentioned cannot be replicated in other countries,” he said.

Song praised China’s national data centre strategy, under which the “Eastern Data and Western Computing” project collects data from cities along the country’s eastern coast and delivers it to less economically prosperous urban centres in western China for processing and storage.

“Such a large-scale national strategy cannot be found anywhere in the world … it is a big opportunity that combines [the need for] computing, networks and storage,” he said.

Song talked up Intel’s processing and accelerator chips for workloads in the rapidly expanding AI field, where he said they could be used to train large language models along the lines of the one that powers OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

AI development

“If you do not have strong requirements for AI workloads … you can use Intel’s CPU to conduct AI calculations,” he said. “For larger-scale AI acceleration, you can use a discrete graphics card, or an AI accelerator card such as Intel’s Gaudi2.”

Intel introduced the Gaudi2 accelerator chip last month, saying it complies with US controls and can be sold in China.

Song did not directly mention the US sanctions, which have created significant challenges for Chinese firms looking to develop cutting-edge technologies, only saying it was important for Intel and other companies with “relatively heavyweight businesses” in China to take advantage of new opportunities in the country.

The US is considering tightening export restrictions to include chips that US companies have developed for sale in China, such as Nvidia’s A800.

Sanction fears

The chief executives of Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm reportedly met with administration officials in Washington, DC last month in a last-ditch effort to ward off further sanctions that they fear could mean a permanent loss of sales in China.

Their concerns were echoed in an open letter by the US-based Semiconductor Industry Association that warned further sanctions “risk diminishing the US semiconductor industry’s competitiveness, disrupting supply chains, causing significant market uncertainty, and prompting continued escalatory retaliation by China”.

Intel, which drew 27 percent of its worldwide revenue from China last year, recently opened an innovation centre in Shenzhen, southern China’s main tech hub, following two visits to the country by chief executive Pat Gelsinger in recent weeks.