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US tightens export controls on chip tech

By Ma Si | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-08-16 00:10

Technicians oversee chip manufacturing at a tech company in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. [Photo by Zhu Haipeng/For China Daily]

Experts: Washington steps up efforts to crack down on China's fledgling industry

The United States' new export controls on advanced chip design software show once again that Washington is misusing political power to maintain its edge in the strategically important sector at the expense of other countries' interests, experts said.

The comments came after the US Department of Commerce issued a rule, without the standard regulatory delay, to impose restrictions on four emerging technologies, including a specific type of electronic computer-aided design software that is vital to producing next-generation artificial intelligence chips. The rule took effect on Monday.

The design software is known as electronic design automation tools in the semiconductor industry. Nicknamed the "cradle" of integrated circuits, such software is widely used in the sector and is of great importance to the entire process of designing chips.

Although the short-term impact of the US' move on Chinese chip companies is limited, it showed that the US government ignores the commercial principles of an industry that is highly globalized and it is ratcheting up its effort to keep China's fledgling semiconductor industry at bay, especially in advanced chip design and manufacturing technologies, the experts added.

Bai Ming, deputy director of international market research at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said this latest development shows that "instead of single moves or randomly selected restrictions, Washington has adopted a series of well-calculated approaches to crack down on China's fast-growing chip industry".

That can be seen from its recently passed law on chip subsidies to geopolitical attempts to build a chip alliance that would exclude the Chinese mainland from semiconductor industrial and supply chains, Bai said.

Such efforts severely disrupt the global semiconductor industry, which has already been struggling with risks of fragmentation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased uncertainties for thousands of chip companies globally, Bai added.

Roger Sheng, vice-president of research at US market research company Gartner Inc, said the export controls target a specific type of electronic design automation tool that is needed to design chips featuring 3- or 2-nanometer technologies, which are currently the most advanced in the world.

According to him, Chinese companies are still trying to achieve breakthroughs in 5- and 7-nanometer technologies.

"So, the short-term impact on them is limited, but in the long term, the move will hinder Chinese companies, especially AI chip companies, to advance their chip design capabilities to 2 and 3 nanometers," Sheng said, adding that the export control will also affect the South Korean company Samsung's future prospects of its 3-nanometer chip technology in the Chinese market.

Zhong Xinlong, a senior consultant at the China Center for Information Industry Development Consultancy, said the new export controls are a clear sign that the US does not want China to make any further progress in advanced chip technologies.

"We currently rely on US companies such as Cadence and Synopsys for high-end electronic design automation tools, but these companies also regard the Chinese market as a significant customer. Synopsys, for instance, earned 17 percent of its revenue from the Chinese market in the quarter ended April 30," Zhong said.

"The export controls will motivate us to double down on resources to achieve breakthroughs," said a senior executive from a Chinese EDA company who declined to be named.

Shares of Chinese companies involved in electronic design automation climbed on Monday. Shen­zhen-listed Empyrean Technology Co and Shanghai-listed Primarius Technologies Co Ltd both rose by more than 6 percent.

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