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China restricts drone and supercomputer exports over national security fears

The Chinese government has issued restrictions on exporting drones and supercomputers due to concerns over national security.

The regulations cover computer hardware capable of processor speeds in excess of eight teraflops a second and drones that can reach altitudes of one mile and remain airborne for more than an hour.

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China’s Ministry of Commerce announced the restrictions earlier this week, but did not specify exactly how the hardware was a threat to national security. However, it now means that a number of Chinese companies that sell processors and drones will require a permit before they are allowed to continue exporting.

The limits placed on high-power computer chips could potentially be the result of renewed competition between China and the US in the field of supercomputers. The Tianhe-2 in Guangzhou is currently the world’s fastest supercomputer, capable of speeds of 33.86 petaflops, but plans were afoot for China to create an even more powerful machine using Intel processors. However, the US government rejected Intel’s export license and subsequently signed its own $200 million deal with the computing firm to create a supercomputer of its own.

US President Barack Obama last week reiterated his country’s ambitions to create the world’s fastest computer by 2025, which would be 20 times faster than the Tianhe-2. China’s decision to limit the export of computer processors may well be a result of a new computing race between itself and the US.

The decision to limit the export of drones is less easily explained, but in any case the regulations are unlikely to affect consumer aircraft. These devices generally have a battery life of approximately 20 minutes and are incapable of reaching high altitudes.

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China’s export restrictions regarding both drones and supercomputer hardware will come into effect later this month.