Within the company, engineers are scrambling to assess the fallout and figure out workarounds to secure the equipment it needs, much like Huawei did two years prior, another person familiar with the matter said. At issue is the administration’s focus on drawing a line at 10-nanometer technology, banning the sale of equipment intended for use in more advanced processes. SMIC could conceivably repurpose 80% of older-generation gear to crank out more advanced chips, but that tactic won’t sustain production for the longer term and much depends on how far President-elect Joe Biden decides to take the rules, a third person close to the situation said, asking not to be identified discussing sensitive matters.
“The company has already got critical equipment and materials needed to continue production,” said Xiang Ligang, Beijing-based director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance. “In the past, China wasn’t too sensitive about the technological bottlenecks it has. But now, Beijing is fully aware of the potential damage and is determined to solve these issues.”
Chinese government-backed SMIC, a manufacturer of chips for global names from Qualcomm Inc. to Broadcom Inc., relies on U.S. gear for its longer-term technology road map. While its engineers may be able to sustain research and output in the short run, the latest sanctions basically freeze its capabilities while the industry advances. If a Biden White House takes it to the max, SMIC could be blocked from 7nm or more advanced technology while overseas rivals like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. dominate the market. The heightened scrutiny may also discourage clients leery of dealing with the uncertainty.
Self sufficiency in semi-conductors is a central policy objective for China. It is the basis on which the country seeks to compete with the USA in future. China may be able to do without Australian coal or wine but it has no hope of competing effectively on the geopolitical front without securing the supply line for technology’s basic ingredients.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top