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In the weeks before the House and the Senate ended 13 months of arguments and passed the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, China’s main, state-supported chipmaker cleared a major technological hurdle that delivered a bit of a shock to the world.

Experts are still assessing how China apparently leapfrogged ahead in its effort to manufacture a semiconductor whose circuits are of such tiny dimensions — about 10,000 times thinner than a human hair — that they rival those made in Taiwan, which supplies both China and the West. The Biden administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the highly specialized equipment to make those chips out of Chinese hands, because progress in chip manufacturing is now scrutinized as a way to define national power — much the same way nuclear tests or precision-guided missiles were during a previous cold war.

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