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Washington has barred companies worldwide from manufacturing chips for Huawei, the telecoms business, in what is a potential death sentence for its affiliate HiSilicon, China’s largest chip designer. The US has also restricted American companies from supplying Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, China’s most advanced chipmaker, with the machines needed for making chips.

What does "in what" mean, can I replace it with "which"?

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Washington has barred companies worldwide from manufacturing chips for Huawei, the telecoms business, in what is a potential death sentence for its affiliate HiSilicon, China’s largest chip designer.

"In what" can be understood here as "in a decision that/which", "in a move that", or more generally "in something that".

In your example, you could replace it with "which" without affecting the meaning much if at all. But in reality "in what" doesn't mean "which". It means "in something which" or "in something that", which in this context means "in a policy that" or "in a decision that".

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The words in what (or equivalent which1; that's just a stylistic choice) here are a syntactic device used to "collapse" two consecutive sentences into one.

The meaning might be easier for non-native speakers if we put a full stop after business, and replace in what by This (a pronoun referring back to the preceding sentence in its entirety, or to the action described by that text; it makes no real difference how you interpret at that level).

Washington has [done something]. This is a potential death sentence...


1 Strictly speaking, what is equivalent to something which (and either of those can follow in here). It's also valid to have just which without in, but you can't do that with what.

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