Nvidia CEO eyes China talks despite US curbs
Shanghai | Nvidia chief executive Jensen Huang is heading to China to meet with tech executives in the world’s biggest chip market, despite rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr Huang, who headlined a trade show in Taiwan this week, plans to travel to China for the first time in years in June, said the people, who asked not to be identified because his schedule is private. Companies on his itinerary include gaming leader Tencent Holdings and TikTok-owner ByteDance, one of the people said.
Mr Huang has not finalised his plans and details of his visit could change, the people added. Asked Thursday if he would head to mainland China after wrapping up the week in Taiwan, he told reporters: “I haven’t decided yet.”
Nvidia is emerging as a critical player in the booming field of artificial intelligence, but its position in China has been complicated by geopolitics. US sanctions unveiled by the Biden administration last year prevent the semiconductor company from selling its most advanced AI chipsets to Chinese customers, including Tencent and ByteDance.
The company, which gets about a fifth of its revenue from China, quickly retooled its line-up after the ban to create new chips for the Chinese market that it says are compliant with the restrictions. Nvidia’s chipsets are considered the gold standard for training AI systems, like the large language model behind ChatGPT.
Mr Huang is hardly alone in courting Chinese customers. He joins a growing list of corporate chieftains taking advantage of China’s post-COVID-19 reopening to visit the world’s No. 2 economy, including Apple’s Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and billionaire Elon Musk.
Despite a pandemic-era downturn, China remains a key market for many of the world’s biggest companies and many economists expect growth to re-accelerate over the course of this year.
Mr Huang has rocketed to celebrity status – at least in tech circles – over the past week. Nvidia forecast booming demand for AI chips that pushed its market valuation to $US1 trillion ($1.5 trillion) on Tuesday, turning it into the first chipmaker to surpass that mark. At events in Taiwan this week, Mr Huang was mobbed by the media and fans seeking selfies with the CEO.
Nvidia retreated from the $US1 trillion milestone on Wednesday, with its shares falling more than 5 per cent. Its market valuation stood at about $US930 billion.
Executives from Chinese customers including Tencent have played down concerns that US chip sanctions will cripple their ability to keep pace with AI development globally. Many executives argue that they can make up for the loss of performance in part by employing more chips, though that could inflate costs.
Nvidia was co-founded in 1993 by Mr Huang, who still runs the company. It proved more successful than its peers at developing chips that turn computer code into the realistic images that computer gamers love, and rode out a wave of consolidation that saw its rivals acquired, bankrupted or merged into larger companies. Its processors are now the chips of choice for training and hosting AI services, which require immense computational power to crunch data.
Its shares have soared since last week when it gave an AI-fuelled sales forecast that shattered Wall Street’s estimates. The stock continued to gain Tuesday after announcing several new AI-related products over the weekend that touch on everything from robotics to gaming to advertising and networking.
Mr Huang also unveiled an AI supercomputer platform that will help tech companies create their own versions of ChatGPT. Cathie Wood, whose flagship ARK Innovation ETF fund cut its holding in Nvidia in January, has warned that the chip industry’s boom-bust cycles pose risks.
Mr Huang unveiled a series of new AI products on Monday at the Computex trade show in Taiwan this week. The wide-ranging line-up included a new robotics design, gaming capabilities, advertising services and a networking technology.