Chinese universities and research institutes have managed to acquire high-end artificial intelligence (AI) chips from Nvidia despite the US expanding a ban on such technology sales to China last year. This revelation comes from a Reuters review of hundreds of tender documents.

According to the report, ten Chinese entities purchased advanced Nvidia chips embedded within server products from Super Micro Computer, Dell Technologies, and Gigabyte Technology between November 2020 and February 2024. This period coincides with the US tightening restrictions on chip exports to China in November 2020.

The specific chips involved are some of Nvidia’s most powerful, designed to accelerate AI applications. While the US restricts Nvidia and its partners from selling these chips directly to China, including via third parties, the purchase itself isn’t illegal within China.

The identities of the sellers remain unclear. The report details eleven unnamed, little-known Chinese retailers who fulfilled the orders. It’s uncertain whether they used stockpiles acquired before the US restrictions or obtained them through other means.

This news highlights the ongoing challenges of enforcing export controls in the tech industry. While the US aims to limit China’s access to advanced technology, these acquisitions demonstrate potential loopholes that hinder the effectiveness of such bans.

The implications of this development are yet to be fully understood. It’s unclear how these acquired chips will be used or whether they will significantly impact China’s technological advancements in AI. However, it does raise concerns about the potential for continued workarounds and the effectiveness of future export control measures.