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Chinese boffins call for research on ‘countermeasures’ to US chip bans

Suggest fundamental semiconductor physics research is needed if China is to build viable local industry

China’s Academy of Science has offered a blueprint to create a semiconductor industry that circumvents the USA’s bans on exports of technology to the Middle Kingdom.

In an article from the Proceedings of the Chinese Academy of Sciences titled “Strengthening the construction of basic semiconductor capabilities and lighting the ‘beacon’ of semiconductor self-reliance and self-improvement, academicians Luo Junwei and Li Shushen argue that all China needs to do is research the right topics, find the talent to do that research, commercialise their work and then sit back and enjoy the benefits of home-grown silicon.

There’s a bit more to it than that, of course: the authors identify existing patent portfolios as a barrier to Chinese chip tech, because building and designing with existing techniques will by necessity mean using of protected intellectual property.

The pair therefore call for Chinese semiconductor policy to “Vigorously promote the spirit of scientists pursuing originality, and resist low-level repetitive follow-up research.”

Instead, the pair want original research, if only to match efforts they’ve observed in the US, South Korea, and elsewhere, in pursuit of innovations that go beyond well-understood semiconductor physics.

The pair also want physical infrastructure to support researchers, and for academic career paths to reward the long efforts required to produce published work on semiconductor innovations.

That kind of work, plus investment in the right kind of university courses and research institutes, and incentives for folks to work there, are suggested as what China needs to develop tech it can build without sanctions hampering its efforts.

But the document doesn’t address the challenge of manufacturing the devices that China’s hypothetical future research endeavours create.

That’s a big issue because China has already funded plenty of semiconductor research and development but has found itself with a decent chip design industry but little capacity to produce advanced silicon. Attempts to start fabrication plants have sometimes blow up before factories were built, leaving China the world’s largest importer of semiconductors.

Which is why US sanctions hurt so much.

Unusually, the paper was published on social media service WeChat, suggesting Beijing approves the ideas it contains being widely circulated even though the document does not offer a particularly complimentary view of Beijing’s current or past policy, and execution of it.

Chinese authorities have already alleged breaches of the law by those charged with administering the ”Big Fund” that drives the nation’s semiconductor industry development efforts. This article suggests Beijing is happy for alternative approaches to be discussed in public. ®

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