back to article China reportedly bars export of homebrew Loongson chips to Russia – and everywhere else

China has reportedly banned the export of chips that use the locally-designed Loongson architecture. A story in Russian business publication Коммерсантъ (Kommersant) cites sources at the Ministry of Digital Development as having said Beijing won't let military-grade Loongson kit cross the border to Russia, or any other nation …

  1. sarusa Silver badge

    Oh No! Anyway....

    Oh no! But Panda Boy said he and Pooty Poot were eternal best friends. Surely that was credibly sincere and not just one evil psychopath cynically doing cheek air kisses on another evil psychopath while cartoonishly brandishing a curved dagger behind his back.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Oh No! Anyway....

      Whilst I'm sure Xi was greatly annoyed at Putin's timing of attacking Ukraine, whilst Xi was still basking in that warm Olympic glow, I'm, pretty certain the "backing" was along the lines of, "We'll support you now, and you WILL support us, when the time comes for us to attack Taiwan".

      However, since Russia has proven to be about as effective as a Chocolate Teapot, and pretty much galvanised the West in a way that was probably unexpected. China and Xi are realising that, the "support" Putin can offer is worth about as much as Used Car Salesman's promises. I guess Xi is hedging his bets, he'll "support" Putin just enough to try to keep him in office, but not enough that if the Putin regime collapses that China will lose out too much. And when the cards do start tumbling down, blocking such high tech chips can let China join in and say "See, we prevented them getting their high tech stuff. We were helping to protect Ukraine too!!!"

      1. Zolko Silver badge

        Re: Oh No! Anyway....

        China is the big winner of the war in Ukraine, for several reasons:

        – it gets Russian raw materials cheaper

        – it distracts the US boycotting/sanctioning machine

        – it allows them to build a SWIFT-circumwenting international monetary system

        – it shows Taiwan what awaits them if they don't listen to China

        Therefore, I think that China will continue to support Russia for the foreseeable future.

        1. LogicGate Silver badge

          Re: Oh No! Anyway....

          ..And a depleted Russia may be too weak to hold onto south-estern parts of Siberia, should the population there "decide" that they want to be "independent" sovereign republics under the protection of a "benevolent near neighbour".

          This would also yield a lot more resources than invading Taiwan.

        2. TheInstigator

          Re: Oh No! Anyway....

          I think you're wrong on this point:

          "– it distracts the US boycotting/sanctioning machine"

          They're still coming thick and fast - although the US has relaxed bans on 26 companies I think - they probably found they were laundrettes or takeaways after KYC checks ...

      2. tmTM

        Re: Oh No! Anyway....

        Xi's probably realised that alot of Russian military gear is pretty rubbish, along with Russian tactics and leadership.

        Basing alot of their own military off a template of Soviet/Russia is seeming like a bad choice right now.

        1. To Mars in Man Bras!

          Re: Oh No! Anyway....

          "a lot" is two words, FFS!

        2. Insert sadsack pun here

          Re: Oh No! Anyway....

          "Basing alot of their own military off a template of Soviet/Russia is seeming like a bad choice right now."

          It's been a long time (maybe 60 years?) since China was dependent on whatever weapons Moscow allotted to it. They have their own massive defence sector.

          1. Danny 14

            Re: Oh No! Anyway....

            most of which is stolen russian tech.

    2. Bebu Silver badge

      client or customer ....

      I recall about the tlme of the (winter) olympics an interviewed US official (Blinken?) said something along the lines of "China doesn't have friends (or perhaps allies)... you are either a client or a customer."

      I thought that showed a bit more insight from a US official than the previous administration would have led me to expect.

      Not a customer so logically Putin's Russia must be a client, if a unwelcome one.

      1. Bitsminer Silver badge

        Re: client or customer ....

        I think it was Kissinger who said "countries don't have friends, they have interests."

        Maybe the USAians are moving back to that point of view.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          I don't think they ever left that point of view.

  2. DS999 Silver badge

    Putin doesn't care

    He's already getting the weapons he needs from Iran.

    If it wasn't for Israel's obstinance where Iran is concerned, perhaps there could be some deal to be had where the US loosens sanctions a bit in exchange for shutting down the flow of weapons to Russia.

    1. localzuk Silver badge

      Re: Putin doesn't care

      He's getting some weapons from Iran, for now. But Iran is also a heavily sanctioned and restricted country and has its own limits on what it can send to Russia. The taps can't be open forever.

      Iran has its own problems brewing right now, with the widespread civil unrest, so how long will Russia really have that support?

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Putin doesn't care

        True, we can hope the protests are eventually able to bring some real change for the people of Iran, but they've been going on for months and the government is only cracking down harder. It looked for a moment like China might change when the world saw a guy standing alone in front of a tank, but China's government has become far more authoritarian than it was in 1989.

        Maybe if the workers at the plant that make the drones getting sent to Russia went on strike, but I'm guessing people making stuff for the military are an "elite" class above the rest of the citizenry and less likely to take part in protests.

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Yes, Putin is getting some weapons from Iran. It woud appear that the quality of said weapons leaves something to be desired.

        That being said, Iran is going to get some useful battle-conditions data out of this, so it is entirely possible that their next generation of weapons be more efficient.

      3. To Mars in Man Bras!

        Re: Putin doesn't care

        >Iran has its own problems brewing right now, with the widespread civil unrest...

        Funny how that broke out, just about the time the US started getting publicly annoyed at Iran exporting drones to Russia, isn't it?

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Israel's obstinance where Iran is concerned

      I believe it is Iran being way more obstinate than Israel.

      Iran is so hell-bent on annihilating Israel that it has even made its Arab neighbors tired of it.

      The only thing Israel is being obstinate about is surviving. Can't blame them for that.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Israel's obstinance where Iran is concerned

        By pressuring Trump to pull out of the deal thus allowing Iran to resume their nuclear work, Israel has only hastened the day when Iran has nuclear weapons. I expect we'll see a test underground detonation within the next couple years, they are reported to be very close now. It is possible they are already there but want to build a few before conducting a test as blowing up your only working model when you have a neighbor with an itchy missile launch button finger is probably not a sound strategy.

        Not saying that was remotely close to a perfect deal as it clearly didn't do everything we might have wanted (i.e. they could still develop missiles and they were still funding terrorists in the region) but according to the inspectors they really did pause their development of nuclear weapons during the agreement.

        Unfortunately the lesson of Ukraine (and Iraq) in contrast to North Korea is "if you have nukes your borders will remain secure regardless of how overmatched your conventional forces might be, but if you don't have nukes and aren't in some mutual defense pact with a superpower your border is just an arbitrary line on a map that other powers will feel free to ignore". At this point I don't think there's any sort of deal Iran could be offered that would get them to put a stop to things unless the theocrats are overthrown (and maybe not even then)

        1. Danny 14

          Re: Israel's obstinance where Iran is concerned

          and the day iran detonates a nuclear test weapon ia the day israel will launch all sorts of crap at iranian facilities. even itanian neighboura wont want iran to have nuclear missiles.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Putin doesn't care

      >If it wasn't for Israel's obstinance where Iran is concerned

      Not so sure about Israel's obstinance compared to other nations obstinance wrt Iran.

      A look at the globe shows there are several central Asia nations between Iran and Russia with significant natural resources and geographical extent that currently look towards Russia in part because of the blind obstinance of the US and its allies...

  3. Peter2 Silver badge

    The thing is, how powerful do chips for military applications actually need to be? The RN & USN were running computerised weapon control and radar displays with valve based technology and lest we forget precision guided munitions were deployed with BOLT-117 in 1967 using hardware vastly more pathetic than anything on the market today.

    Given that even printers have 500+ MHz chips these days I'd have thought that anything sourced would be fairly task adequate for pretty much anything provided that it was designed sensibly and the code was written reasonably well.

    1. MacroRodent

      Blockade runners...

      Chips are easy to smuggle. A suitcase-worth of Western CPU:s will equip quite a number of cruise missiles. A middleman buys chips from California and then happens to go on a cruise of the Pacific in his yacht, which somehow loses its dinghy out at the sea ("I guess I did not tie it properly"), which happens to be picked up by a passing Russian ship a day later. The ship later arrives at Vladivostok, together with the suitcase full of CPU:s.

      So I fear China's ban does not have any real effect on Russian arms manufacturing.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      RUSI have done some interesting tear-downs of Russian kit recovered in Ukraine. And they're absolutely full of Western chips. GPS chips, Inertial guidance chips, little attitude sensors on silicon. I think the average modern Russian cruise missile has something like 15-20 different chips sourced from the US and Western Europe. Some of these are quite specialised, and therefore relatively easy to control the supply of. Because only a limited number of customers need them. So if a new customer comes along, wanting lots, then it ought to raise an alarm.

      I'm sure lots of this stuff can be done with generalised chips, which are going to be easier to get hold of, but that means they're going to need to be physically bigger, need more power, give off more heat and need speicalist programming (and therefore testing) by the Russians. So while they can be replaced, it's probably not as easy as you think - and may require major re-designs to the weapon. Re-designing a weapon means you need a new spare parts supply chain, and you have to re-train the maintenance staff. This is one of the legitimate reasons that military stuff is often not using state-of-the-art components and yet still costs more.

      Non-experts always look at the specs and the size of the bangs. And miss out stuff like maintenance, compatibility and shelf-life, when talking about weapons systems.

      However, stuff I'm reading, from military experts who know way more than me, suggests that Russia's production lines are still grinding out their various flavours of missiles. Often only a handful a month, so way less than they're using up, but it does seem likely that they've either been surprisingly quick at finding ways round sanctions, or they were just sensible and bought stockpiles of the chips they needed. Supposedly Russia is only producing somethine like 12 Kalibr cruise missiles a month, for example. How hard/expensive could it be to have say 3 years of stock of any hard to get components on hand?

      On the other hand, they source their tanks' thermal sights from France. Seemingly even after weapons sales sanctions were imposed in 2014. Thanks France! I'm sure they've got a few in stock there too, but they aren't going to be getting a replacement for that. That's a technology they might have to buy in from China (if China will sell) or go back to much worse older tech - and suffer a significant battlefield disadvantage. I don't know how long it would take to develop domestically - it was a significant NATO advantage 30 years ago, but I'm guessing modern tech makes it easier and cheaper to achieve.

      Of course re-designing weapons is less of a problem during a war. There's less paperwork and more urgency. Plus rules on testing will tend to get relaxed. Especially if you've got no choice. Where testing can often end up being, "try it on the battlefield and then make a new version once we've found out what all the problems are."

  4. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    > "no limits" in the face of international pressure over the former's illegal invasion of Ukraine. If Beijing won't let local chip tech reach Moscow, clearly the partnership does have limits.

    Really? This is my shocked face, etc.

    It's almost as if that political/diplomatic hyperbole was little more than political/diplomatic hyperbole!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The thing is, how powerful do chips for military applications actually need to be?

    Most of the "power" goes into obfuscating their flaws.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: The thing is, how powerful do chips for military applications actually need to be?

      They don't, I suspect Bejing is playing the Trump "national security" card, which is permissible under WTO rules.

      Wouldn't be surprised if the latest versions of the Chinese chips have more than a passing similarity to recent Intel/AMD chips...

      1. Adam Oellermann

        Re: The thing is, how powerful do chips for military applications actually need to be?

        Oh for goodness' sake. It's not even the same ISA.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The thing is, how powerful do chips for military applications actually need to be?

      Not everything is made by Intel.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The thing is, how powerful do chips for military applications actually need to be?

        They don't need to be, the Chinese will try and copy anything!

  6. naive

    How about some arithmetic

    USA + EU lapdog = 778 million citizens

    "The axis of evil" not bending over to the US:

    China + India + Russia + Iran: 1412 + 1400 + 143 + 85 = 3040

    We all know how well the prohibition worked.

    Taken into account that Russia, China and Iran have effective state supported education systems and these countries do not allow drugs dealers to poison their youth with fentanyl, there could be a probability the "axis of evil" will be able to catch up with cpu technology within a decade.

    By that time USA will be like Brazil and EU will be like the Germany of 1946 when our elites care allowed to continue their current misguided policies.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: How about some arithmetic

      The thing is, India is independent and not allied with China or Russia. They have border skirmishes with China that leave people dead on a not to irregular basis and so buy cheap yet supposedly effective military gear from Russia to have a military capable of standing up to China's and so they maintain a better relationship with one of their primary arms suppliers than we do. They are buying what gas Russia can ship to India; they aren't selling them weapons etc.

      So you actually end up with China and India sitting separately both with about 1.4 billion populations who are moderately affluent, about a billion for the "west" ie US, EU + British commonwealth etc who are pretty well off, and then in your words the "axis of evil" of Russia, Iran and North Korea. which has around a quarter of a billion, many of whom in North Korea and Russia don't even have running water and have never seen indoor toilets and so are incredibly poverty stricken by the standards of Africa and China.

      The "axis of evil" is therefore a poverty stricken and tiny market. China will send humanitarian aid to it as well as basic trade goods, but probably not dramatically more than that as it'd mean risking cutting their trade links with richer markets where they actually make most of their money.

    2. Casca Silver badge

      Re: How about some arithmetic

      Yea, because population size is the most important factor...

    3. Insert sadsack pun here

      Re: How about some arithmetic

      "these countries do not allow drugs dealers to poison their youth with fentanyl..."

      I don't know about China, but there is a HUGE drug (and, in Russia, alcohol) addiction problem in Russia and Iran. Anyone with a passing familiarity with those countries knows this.

      "Iran currently has one of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction. The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime reports the country has the world’s second-highest rate of opium addiction and the highest rate of heroin and opium addiction per member of the population."

      "Russia has one of the world’s biggest heroin problems, with up to three million addicts according to local non-governmental organizations...The Russian government estimates its citizens bought $17 billion worth of street-traded heroin last year -- about seven billion doses. The addiction kills at least 30,000 Russians a year, which is a third of the world’s total heroin-related grave is the problem that President Dmitry Medvedev last year branded heroin a threat to national security."

  7. dwodmots

    The real reason is very likely that the chips are much much worse than advertised, most of the budget for r&d and fabs went into politicians pockets, then everyone involved lied to their superiors about how amazing the new domestic chips are. Now the Pooh Bear wants to save face by going "Y-you can't have our Intel and AMD equivalent chips! They're totally real and just as good as yous but you can't see them okay?!" in typical CCP fashion.

  8. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    "As The Register recently reported, Loongson silicon is set to match the performance of kit from Intel and AMD."

    I followed the link. The article does not say that. It says that performance in 2023 might match what Intel/AMD were doing in 2020. It further notes that three years is quite a big gap in performance.

    OTOH, I would concede that you don't need a lot of performance to steer a cruise missile. We were doing that in the 1980s and you probably can't buy chips now that are as crap as the best available to a military buyer 40 years ago.

  9. Bartholomew


    I went to aliexpress and searched for Loongson, and there are still systems being sold. Maybe this global ban only applies to the latest generation and not the older slower hardware. Or not the buggy first revision of chips out the door (The A chips):

    Loongson 3:

    3A4000 (2019) GS464EV (GS464v) some boards on aliexpress

    3B4000 (2019) GS464EV (GS464v) none on aliexpress

    3A5000 (2021) GS464V some boards on aliexpress

    3B5000 (2021) GS464V none on aliexpress

    3C5000 (2021) GS464V none on aliexpress

    3C5000L (2021) GS464V none on aliexpress

    3C5000L-LL (2021) GS464V none on aliexpress

  10. TheInstigator

    It's time to invade China!

    Surely it can't be safe to let China develop any kind of technology?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like