RISC-X? Top Chinese scientist discusses potential for RISC-V fork in extreme case

Is RISC-X next? Bao Yungang, a professor and scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the secretary-general of the China RISC-V Alliance, has suggested RISC-V related standard specifications can be bifurcated into a new RISC-X standard independently developed in China for the “Belt and Road” countries.

[Update July 9, 2022: The title has been updated, as Bao Yungang only answered a hypothetical question, and the screenshot below from a slack (maybe internal) shows SCMP may have misunderstood his meaning, and China would have no need to fork RISC-V based on how licensing works.

RISC-V answer RISC-X fork

I’ve also been given the link to Bao Yungang’s Zhuhi account, and there’s no mention of “RISC-X”. I’ve left the rest of the post unchanged for reference and general discussion about the topic]

The world has become more complicated with new sanctions imposed nearly every week, and those include not only primary sanctions but also secondary sanctions where non-sanctioned countries engaged in business or partnership with sanctioned countries may be penalized too. This has been around for years, for example, I had to sign a document in 2019 saying I would not be doing business with North Korea or Iran, or go bear riding with Putin during my summer holidays (or something to that effect) when I opened a business bank account in Hong Kong or it would be terminated without notice.


But everything has gotten more worse in 2022, and China is notably worried about semiconductors supplies, especially processors. While Intel, AMD, and even Arm-based processors would be obvious targets of sanctions, you’d think RISC-V open architecture and the ecosystem around it may be safe from sanctions. But Bao Yungang, which SCMP describes as a top Chinese scientist, mentions the following at a Q&A session on Zhihu social network (SCMP did not provide the link to the Q&A, IMHO a frequent failure of larger news organizations):

In extreme cases, RISC-V related standard specifications can be bifurcated into RISC-X, and China is fully capable of advancing the evolution of the RISC-X standard independently and building an ecosystem together with Belt and Road countries.

He further explains that while RISC-X products may not be able to enter the United States and other Western countries, in a way similar to Huawei products, but products based on the new open-source architecture could still be to the 6.6 billion people in developing countries.

It does not look like any serious work has been done on RISC-X, and I understand it was just offered as a possibility. So I’d still view RISC-X as unlikely at this stage for a range of reasons. The RISC-V Alliance is based in Switzerland, which historically has been neutral (although this has changed a bit recently), and a significant number of its premier members are Chinese companies such as Alibaba Cloud and Huawei. Then the core RISC-V architecture and a large part of the ecosystem are open-source, so it would be close to impossible to prevent China or other countries from accessing the technology, barring governments deciding to make open-source chip design illegal…

The problem could be in customizations as a lot of RISC-V development is done in the dark in that respect. For instance, SiFive started by offering open-source RISC-V cores, but their customers did not really care about open-source designs, and now most of the SiFive cores are closed source, while Imagination Technologies boasted about its “innovative and patent protected technologies” when introducing its Catapult RISC-V CPU cores.

Of course, the CPU architecture is only a small part of getting the chip to market, and the US already bans China from acquiring equipment for the more advanced nodes, but now it seems they are also trying to prevent China from manufacturing chips with older nodes by pushing ASML to also restrict sales of older equipment. Anyway, let’s hope cooler heads will prevail, and people can focus on advancing technology instead.

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15 Replies to “RISC-X? Top Chinese scientist discusses potential for RISC-V fork in extreme case”

  1. I’d disagree that “advancing technology” is the ultimate goal of humanity.
    I understand the restrictions of technology transfer are not comfortable for those who are restricted. OTOH I believe they are there for a reason. For example that Putin does not shot us with some “innovative and patent protected technologies”.

    1. > Putin does not shot us

      Ever thought about why the Pentagon hires tens of thousands ‘PR specialists’? Why the NATO talks about cognitive warfare? Most probably not, right?

  2. What a clickbait title…

    .. from the quote it sounds it was just a turn of phrase – where he pointed out that they are free to fork the instruction set if they don’t like the direction the RISC-V project is going.

    This is just explaining what open source is… to placate local stakeholders and to explain they aren’t beholden to some western-run standards body

  3. ‘developed in China for the “Belt and Road” countries.’ … interesting strategy to enlarge China’s influence & power.

  4. Well there is OpenPOWER already, so just another flavor of RISC is hardly world shattering.

  5. THis is part of a broader move by the chinese to fork international standards and gain leverage over foreign firms who might want to participate in the huge domestic chinese market.

  6. SMCP…South China Morning Post? Yeah, that’s a complicated read since before the NYT acted so conflicted. Code translation to RISC X sounds like a good way to protect open source from sanctionable situations.

    Remote hole in BRIC sounds redundant…

  7. Definitly i really appreciate your articles and objectivity, meanwhile many publications, or more certainly “advertisations” are incomplete and for whom “corrections” is badword, you always follow your subjects and correct your publications if needed.

    Thank You so much to give us access to all to those informations and to the sources of thoses ones.

  8. The RISC-V Alliance is based in Switzerland

    It is based in Switzerland because of Trump, it was an association based in the US before, but I guess Huawei and others did not like it, so they moved it to Switzerland:

    The RISC-V standards body is moving to Switzerland over fear of US trade restrictions | TechSpot

    They might have to relocate it to a really neutral country soon, as Switzerland is participating in the SWIFT sanctions as well against Russia:

    Zooland – .[ZooBaB]. (wikidot.com)

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