U.S. mulls restricting the export of chipmaking tools for China's SMIC

An artistic depiction of a chip with the US and Chinese flags in the background
Image via Asia Times

Following up on the move to restrict China’s largest contract chip manufacturer, the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) from importing fabrication equipment for making 10nm-class chips in the year 2020, the U.S. is now mulling raising this prohibition up to 14nm-class chip making tools, as per a Reuters report.

The SMIC has been the only reported chip manufacturing facility in China that makes 14nm-chips on average since late 2019. The move is said to further hamper China’s efforts at making more state-of-the-art chips employing latest technologies and equipment, after COVID-19 lockdowns slowed manufacturing outputs sizeably.

A Department of Commerce (DOC) spokesperson divulged, "with respect to semiconductor-related export license applications in particular, (Commerce) and the other reviewing agencies ... consider a variety of factors in making licensing decisions, including the technology node for the proposed export." Meanwhile, exports of machinery for making less advanced semiconductors remain legal without export licenses. This facilitates ample availability of such chips currently facing shortage in the automobiles and everyday consumer electronics market.

Biden Administration remains in close liaison with DOC and industry allies to continuously tweak policies pertaining to China’s access to advanced technologies. This new move would allow the U.S. Administration to tighten export controls on SMIC's most advanced factories, which, in turn, would help safeguard U.S. interests in competitiveness and national security.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, expressed his dismay at the move and said: "By repeatedly seeking to politicize, weaponize and ideologize economic and trade issues and exercise technological blockade and decoupling against other countries, the U.S. would only remind other countries of the risks of technological dependence on the U.S. and prompt them to quickly become independent and self-reliant in science and technology."

It is pertinent to note that soon after SMIC was added to the trade blacklist in 2020, and barred from getting access to U.S. manufacturing equipment and advanced technologies for producing chips with its 10nm-class (and sub-10nm-class) nodes, it diverted its focus on developing sophisticated multi-chip designs on 14nm and thicker tiles.

The company then also disclosed its multi-billion dollar expansion plans to work around the United States’ export restrictions to achieve three times its output of manufacturing high-end, advanced processors on advanced nodes indigenously, as per GN24 Video Games News.

Source: Reuters via GN24

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