Skip to Content

Trump Is Tightening the Screws on U.S. Tech Exports to China

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

The Trump administration is proposing sweeping new limits on U.S. exports of advanced technologies to China in an effort to stop the world’s second-largest economy from encroaching on American leadership in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and self-driving vehicles.

In a document published Monday in the Federal Register, the Commerce Department announced it is seeking public comment by December 19 on whether to impose new controls on a long list of technologies that could be used for “potential conventional weapons, intelligence collection, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorist applications or could provide the United States with a qualitative military or intelligence advantage.”

The department’s list included: artificial intelligence, computer vision, speech recognition, audio and video manipulation technology, microprocessor technology, micro-drone and micro-robotic systems, 3-D printing, self-driving cars, robots, quantum computing, mind-machine interfaces and flight control algorithms. And the document identified a number of technologies that sounded more likely to appear in a Marvel movie than an actual lab, including: mind-machine interfaces, molecular robotics, adaptive camouflage, swarming technology, and smart dust.

Imposing export controls on such a broad range of technologies would cause consternation in Silicon Valley, potentially affecting the exports of companies including Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL), and IBM (IBM). And Nvidia (NVDA) just announced a deal to supply its Xavier A.I. chip to at least three Chinese self-driving car startups.

The Commerce Department’s announcement is only an initial notice of rules under study. But a comment period clears the way for the administration to order binding export restrictions. Some tech experts expressed concern that it might create significant market barriers to U.S. companies doing business in China.

Eurasia Group’s Paul Triolo, in a tweet, said implications of the announcement were “huge.” He predicted that, while there would be much comment and refinement of the restrictions, the “vast majority are likely to stay on the list…clearly directed at China.”

The clampdown on U.S. tech exports comes as President Tump prepares to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping later this month. Prospects for a lasting resolution seem unlikely, however. The Commerce Department announcement follows approval this summer of legislation that vastly expands the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to regulate U.S. technology investments on national security grounds.

Rising tech tensions between the U.S and China will be among the many issues we’ll tackle Guangzhou next week at the Fortune Global Tech Forum. If you’re not able to join us, look for full coverage on