Skip the navigation

China gives on tech metals, but not supercomputing

China's emerging power in technology is playing out in different ways

October 28, 2010 08:10 PM ET

Computerworld - As China works to realize its ambitions in high-tech, the nation has been flexing its muscle on two fronts this month in ways that are getting attention from the U.S. government and industry.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is on her way to the region, will talk with Chinese leaders about the shrinking exports of rare earth elements, used in many high-technology applications.

"These are elements that are critical to the industrial production not only in Japan and the United States but in countries around the world," Clinton said in a press conference in Honolulu on Wednesday.

China's government said on Thursday that it "would not use rare earths as a bargaining chip." The New York Times subsequently reported that China had resumed shipping the rare earth elements, after reducing its quota for the second half of this year and then ending exports for the year this month.

But China has substantially cut its exports over the last decade and what today's events mean for the long term is uncertain.

Meanwhile, China's announced Thursday that it had built a 2.5 petaflop supercomputer, which has a good chance of heading the Top500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers when the ranking is released next month at a supercomputing conference in New Orleans.

High-performance computing (HPC) is seen as critical to manufacturing might for its ability to simulate product development and speed time to market.

Among the groups that work to keep high performance computing on the agenda in Washington is the Council on Competitiveness, which is made up of CEOs of some of the largest U.S. firms, university presidents and labor leaders.

China's supercomputer is "certainly is an indicator that more countries are able to build and deploy massive computing systems for scientific and engineering activities," said Cynthia McIntyre, senior vice president of strategic operations, planning and development in HPC, at the council.

"I think that the position of number one is certainly one that the U.S. will like to maintain going forward, but I'm sure there are other countries that would like to take that position also," McIntyre said.

"I think that this is an opportunity to move forward to the next level of computing capabilities," McIntyre said of China's announcement.

The National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin is home of the Tianhe-1A supercomputer, which is a step up from China's Nebulae, a 1.27-petaflop system that is now the second-ranked system in the world.

But while the Tianhe is powerful, it is using U.S. chip technology, 7,168 Nvidia Tesla GPUs, each with 448 processor cores and 14,336 six-core Intel Xeon CPUs.

Our Commenting Policies