Is China’s Export Control a Precise Counterattack against US, Japan and the Netherlands?

A 2-inch (50.8 mm) gallium oxide wafer is displayed at Hangzhou International Science and Technology Innovation Center of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province on May 30, 2022. Photo: VCG

A 2-inch (50.8 mm) gallium oxide wafer is displayed at Hangzhou International Science and Technology Innovation Center of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province on May 30, 2022. Photo: VCG

The measures taken by China in recent years to safeguard national security and interests have often been subjected to excessive interpretation and reaction from the US and Western countries. The recent decision by China to implement export controls on gallium and germanium-related items is no exception. Although Chinese authorities have said this is a common international practice and not targeted at any specific country, certain countries have felt “targeted,” leading to a series of doubts, questions, and even accusations.

There are mainly two points that these people are criticizing about. First, they believe that China is indeed targeting specific countries by precisely counterattacking the semiconductor equipment export controls imposed by the US, Japan and the Netherlands. Does this contradict China’s consistent opposition to the abuse of export controls? Second, they claim China’s actions may violate regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are detrimental to the stability of the semiconductor supply chain. Both of these points are baseless.

Whether it is a precise counterattack against the discriminatory policies of the US, Japan, and the Netherlands toward China can be left for them to ponder. It is nothing wrong to make those who have done bad things to China feel uneasy and unsettled. Gallium and germanium are key raw materials used in the production of semiconductors, missile systems, solar cells, and other high-tech products. If China exports them to these countries, but they prohibit the export of high-tech products made from these materials to China, this is clearly unfair in terms of trade. If the US uses them to produce high-end military equipment, it may even pose a threat to China’s national security. China’s export control is justifiable in terms of reason and law. It needs to be emphasized that this is entirely different from the US’ abuse of export controls.

China’s export control measures have always adhered to the principles of fairness, reasonableness, and non-discrimination, and are committed to maintaining the security and stability of the global production and supply chains. As for whether these measures violate WTO regulations this time, it is more of a technical issue. China is recognized as an exemplary member of the WTO, in sharp contrast with the US, who has trampled on WTO rules and principles. Despite having larger reserves of germanium than China, the US has protected germanium as a defense reserve resource since 1984 and has hardly conducted any mining activities. In a sense, China’s implementation of export controls on gallium and germanium may have come a bit late. China has no reason to excessively deplete its strategic resources to meet the demands of unfriendly countries.

Currently, there is an abnormal phenomenon in the international community. The US has engaged in too many acts of undermining international rules and seems to be unconcerned about the accumulating “debts.” It is a bit taken for granted. On the other hand, China’s legitimate actions are often magnified and exaggerated by external forces. What’s even more despicable is that the US often takes the lead in pointing fingers at China, without any sense of guilt or shame. The US, which seriously lacks a moral bottom line in the international arena, enjoys morally blackmailing China, which is truly absurd. Dealing with such a US, China also needs to adapt.

To contain and suppress China, the US has imposed various export restrictions on China to an unprecedented extent, and these restrictions are escalating and expanding. There are currently no signs of any easing or cessation. It is reported that the Biden administration is considering a new round of high-tech investment bans on China. When the US treats China in this way, it should not expect China to remain silent and not fight back; that is impossible. However, China will not be as unscrupulous and rule-breaking as the US. Nevertheless, we do have a considerable toolbox to retaliate and make countries that harm China’s interests pay a price.

The US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is about to visit China. Is China announcing the export control measures at this time to give Yellen a warning? This is overthinking. China doesn’t need to do this, but it will not postpone or cancel planned measures just because a senior US official is coming to create a favorable atmosphere. That’s how things stand. The people who are most dramatic about China’s every move are often the ones with the strongest malicious intent toward China. Their interpretations are bound to be distorted, so it is necessary to make them feel uncomfortable.

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