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Senators ask for review of Apple’s plan to use Chinese chips

An iPhone on display this month at Apple’s Fifth Avenue store in New York. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Senators from both parties on Wednesday asked the nation’s top intelligence official to lead a review of the security threat posed by Apple’s reported plan to use memory chips from a major Chinese chipmaker for its new iPhone 14.

“We write to convey our extreme concern about the possibility that Apple Inc. will soon procure 3D NAND memory chips from the People’s Republic of China state-owned manufacturer Yangtze Memory Technologies Co.,” the lawmakers, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman, wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

The letter urged Haines to consider the economic and national security consequences posed by the reported arrangement, including how the Chinese Communist Party supports YMTC as part of its plan to grow China’s domestic semiconductor industry.

Apple declined to comment on the lawmakers’ letter.

Apple’s plan to use YMTC memory chips was reported this month in the Korean press and by the Financial Times.

Apple said in an earlier statement that YMTC chips are not used in any of its products, and that it was “evaluating” whether to use YMTC chips for some iPhones sold in China. It also said all user data stored on such chips is “fully encrypted.”

iPhone 14 hands on: Apple leans into safety, and fear

Apple told the Financial Times and repeated to The Washington Post on Wednesday that it was not planning to use the chips in iPhones sold outside China.

The lawmakers fear that the phones will still find their way into the global market, said a Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the record.

The senators also want Haines to look at what they said was YMTC’s role in aiding other Chinese firms, including the telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei, which is under strict U.S. export controls. And they want her to examine YMTC’s alleged links to the Chinese military.

If Apple proceeds, it “would introduce significant privacy and security vulnerabilities to the global digital supply chain that Apple helps shape,” said the letter, which was also signed by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and committee member Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

Last year, the Biden administration described YMTC as China’s “national champion memory chip producer.” According to the White House, YMTC has received about $24 billion in subsidies from Chinese government sources, which, the White House said, was essential to the firm’s rapid development.

The four senators and other colleagues urged Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in July to place YMTC on the department’s export blacklist on grounds that it was supplying companies under U.S. sanctions.

The lawmakers asked Haines to reply by Oct. 1.

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