Republican China hawks criticize Intel chip in new Huawei laptop

By Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican China hardliners Marco Rubio and Elise Stefanik are calling on the Biden administration to block all sales to Huawei after the sanctioned Chinese tech company released a new laptop powered by an Intel AI processor chip.

The release of Huawei's first AI-enabled laptop, the MateBook X Pro powered by Intel's new Core Ultra 9 processor last week, drew fire from Republican lawmakers, who said it suggests that the Commerce Department had given the green light to Intel to sell the chip to Huawei.

If the Commerce Department did authorize the shipment, "this would be unacceptable and a failure to enforce export controls against a blacklisted champion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)," Senator Rubio and Representative Stefanik said in a letter to Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo, first reported by Reuters.

"We urge you to reconsider this damaging posture and immediately revoke all export licenses to Huawei," they added in the letter, dated April 24.

The letter adds to mounting pressure on the Biden administration to take more drastic measures to hobble Huawei. Some of its businesses are seeing renewed growth despite the company having long been in Washington's crosshairs over national security concerns.

Huawei did not respond to a request for comment. Intel said it "strictly complies with all the laws and regulations in the countries where we do business." A Commerce Department spokesperson said the agency had received the letter and will respond but did not comment further.

The Chinese Embassy said it opposes "excluding specific companies from specific countries," and abusing the concept of national security to suppress foreign companies without any conclusive evidence.

The United States placed Huawei on a trade restriction list in 2019 amid fears it could spy on Americans, part of a broader effort to handicap China's ability to bolster its military. Being added to the list means the company's suppliers have to seek a special, difficult-to-obtain license before shipping.

Even so, suppliers to Huawei have received licenses worth billions of dollars to sell Huawei goods and technology, including one particularly controversial authorization, issued by the Trump administration, which has allowed Intel to ship central processors to Huawei for use in its laptops since 2020.

Critics argue such licenses have contributed to the company's resurgence.

Huawei shocked the industry last August with a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip manufactured by Chinese chipmaker SMIC despite U.S. export restrictions on both companies. The phone helped Huawei smartphone sales spike 64% year on year in the first six weeks of 2024, according to research firm Counterpoint.

"It is clear from these trends that Huawei, a blacklisted company that was on the ropes just a few years ago, is making a comeback," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "It is coming back because the Biden Administration, led by your department, is failing to protect American ingenuity," they added.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Michael Erman)