The China Academy of Engineering Physics, the country's top nuclear weapons research and development facility, was one of the first institutions put on a US export blacklist in 1997—but it doesn't seem to have had much trouble acquiring restricted items. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of procurement documents and research papers, the CAEP has used computer chips made by American companies including Intel and Nvidia dozens of times over the last decade. Experts say the American semiconductors were used in numerous ways, with at least seven employed in research that could relate to maintaining nuclear stockpiles.
The CAEP was placed on what the US calls the Entity List as part of the US policy of banning the use of American products in nuclear weapons research by other countries. Intel and Nvidia say they are complying with restrictions on the semiconductors, though trade lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former top Commerce Department official, tells the Journal it's "insanely difficult to enforce" US restrictions on transactions overseas. Nvidia says the chips involved were general-purpose chips found in personal computers and no company can monitor where every computer ends up.
The chips were mainly bought from resellers in China, according to the Journal's analysis. Ian Stewart at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies says that if US export controls are going to work, authorities "need to control this tech by not allowing it to be sold by distributors when the end user is unknown." The US brought in a wider ban on the export of chips and chipmaking technology last year. On Friday, the administration also secured a deal with the Netherlands and Japan to block the export of advanced chipmaking machinery, Bloomberg reports. (Read more China stories.)