China is set to develop “a prototype of an exascale computer” by the end of this year, the country’s press agency claims.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s new administration in the United States is considering slashing existing supercomputing programs at the Department of Energy.

Supercomputers and Superpowers

Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer
Sunway TaihuLight – Top500

“A complete computing system of the exascale supercomputer and its applications can only be expected in 2020, and will be 200 times more powerful than the country’s first petaflop computer Tianhe-1, recognized as the world’s fastest in 2010,” Zhang Ting, application engineer with the Tianjin-based National Supercomputer Center, told Xinhua.

It is believed that the machine is the Tianhe-2A, the successor to the 55-petaflop (peak) Tianhe-2 that is currently rated as the second most powerful computer in the world.

The Tianhe-1 uses Knights Corner Xeon Phi chips, and was originally set to be upgraded with Intel’s Knights Landing chips, until the US government banned such exports. Instead, China has focused on creating its own chips to build the Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer,  the most powerful computer built to date.

TaihuLight is a 125-petaflop (peak) supercomputer that uses ShenWei 26010 processors.

As China ramps up towards building an exascale computer, the US may be winding its initiatives down. The US Department of Energy previously announced plans to build two GPU-accelerated supercomputers, codenamed ‘Summit’ and ‘Sierra’ for 2018, ahead of reaching exascale by 2023.

Now, these plans are up in the air. The Hill reports that the Trump administration is considering sweeping cuts modeled closely on proposals created by conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. Among the reduction in federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, the Department of Energy is set to see some cutbacks.

Funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research could be brought back to 2008 levels, while the Office of Electricity, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy could all be cut.

Supercomputing resource Top500 notes that funding in 2008 stood at $342 million, approximately half of what it is now. It adds that the Exascale Computing Project simply didn’t exist in 2008.

Should Trump proceed with the plan, it is expected to be made public within the first 45 days of the administration, before going to Congress for a vote.