POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

The US government is investigating China’s breakthrough smartphone

Sep 7, 2023, 7:00 AM

Customers experience the newly released Huawei Mate 60 Pro flagship phone at Huawei's flagship stor...

Customers experience the newly released Huawei Mate 60 Pro flagship phone at Huawei's flagship store in Shanghai, China, on September 5. The United States government is seeking more information about the Chinese smartphone powered by an advanced chip. Photo credit: Costfoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

(CNN) — The United States government is seeking more information about the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, a Chinese smartphone powered by an advanced chip.

The new flagship device, which reportedly includes a new 5G Kirin 9000s processor developed specifically for Chinese manufacturer Huawei, recently shocked industry experts who didn’t understand how the company would have the technology to make such a chip following sweeping efforts by the United States to restrict China’s access to foreign chip technology.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said during a White House press briefing Tuesday that the US needs “more information about precisely its character and composition” to determine if parties bypassed American restrictions on semiconductor exports to create the new chip.

In 2019, the government banned US companies from selling software and equipment to Huawei and restricted international chipmakers using US-made technology from partnering with Huawei. The government cited perceived national security concerns, such as the potential for cyberattacks or spying from the Chinese governement. The inclusion of a custom-built 5G chip would be a major benchmark for Huawei as it grapples with the impact of the US restrictions on its device business.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I think the reaction in China seems to be one of mass excitement because Huawei, which was at one time vying to be the number one smartphone brand worldwide, is seen to be fighting its way back into the smartphone market with Chinese-made silicon, and has no doubt been trading on a ‘Made In China’ mantra,” David McQueen, a director at market research firm ABI Research, told CNN.

But he said the launch also raises questions around how Huawei managed to launch the phone when it has spent the past four years under US restrictions banning access to 5G technology.

“While access to 5G for the chipset is one thing, I’m not sure how the company managed to source all the other components that need to go into a 5G smartphone, such as power amps, switches and filters,” he said.

When Huawei unveiled the Mate 60 Pro smartphone late last month, it did not include much information about the chip on its website product page, beyond that it promises better communication experience and a more stable network connection. But last week, consultant firm TechInsights did a breakdown of the Mate 60 to get a closer look at the chip, which appeared to be a 7-namometer processor made by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC).

SMIC, which is a partially state-owned Chinese company, was included in the export restrictions set up by the US government several years ago.

National Security Adviser Sullivan added that the United States “should continue on its course of a ‘small yard, high fence’ set of technology restrictions focused narrowly on national security concerns … regardless of the outcome.”

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The US government is investigating China’s breakthrough smartphone