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Two sessions sharpen semiconductor focus

By MA SI | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-09 07:46

A technician works on the chip production line of a company in Suining, Sichuan province.  LIU CHANGSONG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Lawmakers, advisers from key sector stress steps needed for better security

China's efforts to achieve proficiency in world-class chipmaking and ride out related US restrictions have received the attention of both lawmakers and political advisers at this year's two sessions.

The number of senior executives and academicians involved in the semiconductor sector who are also among this year's deputies to the National People's Congress and national political advisers, has increased significantly.

For instance, Zhang Suxin, chairman of chipmaker Huahong Group, was elected a deputy to the NPC for the first time. Chen Tianshi, chairman of Cambricon Technology, a Chinese AI chip company, was also elected a national political adviser for the first time.

Other newly chip-related national legislators include Li Shushen, a renowned semiconductor expert and president of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Fu Zhiwei, chairman of Xuzhou B&C Chemical Co Ltd, a domestic company specializing in photoresist, a photosensitive material crucial in chipmaking.

They have called for more efforts to develop the strategically important sector, including drafting a chip law to pursue breakthroughs.

This, experts said, mirrors the industry's growing importance to the Chinese economy.

The latest Government Work Report stated that key priorities this year include pooling of quality resources and concerted efforts to achieve breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields.

Xie Shanghua, a member of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the nation's top political advisory body, said it is necessary to prioritize the development of chips as part of the national security strategy.

In her proposal to the two sessions, Xie said the NPC should take the lead in formulating a chip law, among other measures, to ensure the sustainable, healthy and high-quality development of the semiconductor industry over the medium to long term.

"The chip policies that have been issued in China are mainly regulations and departmental rules at the State Council level," Xie said, adding that a chip law enacted by the NPC can help better promote the industry's development.

Efforts should be made to mobilize national resources and to unite leading enterprises to jointly tackle key problems and support the research of equipment components and advanced manufacturing processes of 7 nanometers, 5nm, and 3nm, Xie said.

Xie's proposal follows similar efforts in major economies around the world. The United States, Japan and the European Union are rolling out policies or laws to fuel the development of their homegrown chip industries.

Fu of Xuzhou B&C Chemical said, "We hope that more targeted policies will be rolled out to support the domestic industrial chain and provide precise support to different segments."

Liu Zhongfan, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a CPPCC National Committee member, said building integrated circuit colleges is one of the important measures taken by the country to deal with the "bottlenecks" in the semiconductor industry.

About 29 universities in China had established IC colleges or chip talent training bases as of May 2022, he said.

Liu said: "In the future, more universities will join in to establish such academies. The focus should be on cultivating top talent with interdisciplinary capabilities while avoiding too much repetitive investment.

"The fundamental way to solve the challenges in the chip industry is to cultivate leading enterprises with international competitiveness."

Last week, Vice-Premier Liu He called for efforts to mobilize resources nationwide to promote the development of ICs, and offer real national treatment to foreign chip experts. Industry insiders interpreted his call as a signal for a new round of more flexible supportive policies for the semiconductor sector amid US curbs.

Roger Sheng, vice-president of research at US market research company Gartner, said it takes more than just money to achieve breakthroughs in crucial semiconductor technologies. "Talent and time are key."

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