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U.S. blacklists dozens of Chinese firms including SMIC, DJI

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Key Points
  • The United States added dozens of Chinese companies, including the country's top chipmaker SMIC and Chinese drone manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co, to a trade blacklist on Friday.
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement the department would "not allow advanced U.S. technology to help build the military of an increasingly belligerent adversary."
  • The Commerce Department released a list of 77 companies and affiliates to the so-called entity list, including 60 Chinese companies.
The DJI Phantom 3 Standard drone.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The United States added dozens of Chinese companies, including the country's top chipmaker SMIC and Chinese drone manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co, to a trade blacklist on Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump's administration ramps up pressure on China in his final weeks in office.

Reuters first reported the addition of SMIC and dozens of additional companies early Friday. The move is seen as the latest in Republican Trump's efforts to cement his tough-on-China legacy as part of lengthy fight between Washington and Beijing over trade and numerous economic issues.

The U.S. Commerce Department said the action against SMIC "stems from China's military-civil fusion (MCF) doctrine and evidence of activities between SMIC and entities of concern in the Chinese military industrial complex."

The department also said it was adding the world's biggest drone company DJI to the list along with AGCU Scientech; China National Scientific Instruments and Materials, and Kuang-Chi Group for allegedly enabling "wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance."

The firms did not immediately comment.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement the department would "not allow advanced U.S. technology to help build the military of an increasingly belligerent adversary."

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Ross said the government would presumptively deny licenses to prevent SMIC from accessing technology to produce semiconductors at advanced technology levels: 10 nanometers or below.

In an address to the Asia Society on Friday, China's State Councillor Wang Yi, who is also the country's foreign minister, noted the expanding list of U.S. sanctions and called on Washington to stop its "arbitrary suppression" of Chinese companies.

The Commerce Department released a list of 77 companies and affiliates to the so-called entity list, including 60 Chinese companies. Reuters reported earlier the department was adding about 80 companies, most of them Chinese.

China's foreign ministry said that if true, the blacklisting would be evidence of U.S. oppression of Chinese companies and that Beijing would continue to take "necessary measures" to protect their rights.

"We urge the U.S. to cease its mistaken behavior of unwarranted oppression of foreign companies," ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular news conference in Beijing on Friday.

SMIC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The designations by the Commerce Department include some entities in China that enable alleged human rights abuses and some helping it construct and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea, the agency said.

It also cited entities that acquired U.S.-origin items in support of the People's Liberation Army's programs, and entities and persons that engaged in the theft of U.S. trade secrets.

Companies previously added to the list include telecoms equipment giants Huawei Technologies Co and 150 affiliates, and ZTE Corp over sanction violations, as well as surveillance camera maker Hikvision over suppression of China's Uighur minority.

Fraying ties

Shares in SMIC, formally the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, fell 5.2% in Hong Kong on Friday, while the company's Shanghai-listed shares declined 1.8%. The benchmark indices in the two markets were down less than 1%.

SMIC had already been in Washington's crosshairs.

In September, the Commerce Department mandated that suppliers of certain equipment to the company apply for export licenses after concluding there was an "unacceptable risk" that equipment supplied to it could be used for military purposes.

Last month, the Defense Department added the company to a blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies, effectively banning U.S. investors from buying its shares starting late next year.

SMIC has repeatedly said that it has no relationship with the Chinese military.

The entity list designation will force SMIC to seek a special license from the Commerce Department before a U.S supplier could send it key goods, part of a bid by the administration to curb its access to sophisticated U.S. chipmaking technology.

The Commerce Department added nearly a dozen SMIC-affiliated companies to the entity list.

SMIC is the largest Chinese chip manufacturer but trails Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the industry's market leader. It has sought to build out foundries for the manufacture of computer chips that can compete with those of TSMC.

Ties between Washington and Beijing have grown increasingly antagonistic over the past year as the world's top two economies sparred over Beijing's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong and rising tensions in the South China Sea.