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US chipmakers don't want to be locked out of industry's biggest market: China

Always Be Closing – deals to grab that sweet, sweet renminbi

The US semiconductor industry wants to have its cake and eat it, or rather it wants to have continued access to the huge Chinese market despite Washington's ongoing campaign to limit Beijing's access to advanced chip technology.

This latest turn in the chip wars is due to concern among US chipmakers over the rules governing what investments companies will be able to make in China. These need to be clearer, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), so that the companies know where they stand.

The SIA wants clear "guardrails" regarding the rules Washington plans to attach to the subsidies it will dole out as part of the CHIPS Act funding designed to boost semiconductor manufacturing in America.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last year warned that companies receiving CHIPS Act cash would be forbidden from building advanced technology plants in China for a period of 10 years, and would only be allowed to expand any mature node facilities in China for the purpose of serving the Chinese market.

In an interview with Bloomberg, SIA president and CEO John Neuffer claimed that China was the semiconductor industry's biggest market: "Our view is that we need to play in that market."

The SIA said it just wants "clear rules of the road" so that what the US government deems a national security concern is well defined and the companies are able to take heed and plan ahead accordingly.

It isn't just US companies that are unhappy with strings attached to CHIPS Act funding. Semiconductor giant TSMC is said to be seeking up to $15 billion in subsidies to help build two chip fabrication plants in Arizona, but has expressed concerns about rules that may require it to share profits from the fabs with the US government as well as provide detailed information about its operations.

The 10-year ban on Chinese investments is a bone of contention for Samsung Electronics and SK hynix too. The Korean memory makers have significant investments in mainland China, with SK hynix in the process of picking up Intel's NAND manufacturing facility there, while Samsung already operates two Chinese memory factories.

Meanwhile, TSMC is planning to charge up to 30 percent more for chips manufactured in its Arizona facilities than those coming from its domestic sites in Taiwan, according to a report by DigiTimes. This has been blamed on the cost of construction being significantly more expensive in America, but will also have the effect of making sure that most of TSMC's business is likely to continue to be served from its homeland.

However, the high cost of building semiconductor facilities is amply demonstrated by Japan's new semiconductor company Rapidus, which this week said it will need about 2 trillion yen ($14.71 billion) for technological development, according to Reuters. Rapidus is looking to the Japanese government to provide "long-term assistance" with this capital expenditure.

Rapidus also requires an additional 3 trillion yen ($22.17 billion) to fund mass production and is considering a public listing to raise capital for that purpose, company Chairman Tetsuro Higashi said.

The new company is starting with help from IBM, and is set to produce advanced chips using a 2nm process node developed by IBM, sometime towards the end of the decade.

Elsewhere, Germany's largest semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies announced that it has broken ground in Dresden for a new chip fabrication plant of its own that will be funded in accordance with the objectives of the European Chips Act.

Infineon said it is seeking public funding of around €1 billion (£1.1 billion) towards the cost of the new plant, which is intended to produce power electronics based on 300mm wafer technology.

The launch event was attended by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who hailed the development as good news for the EU's semiconductor strategy.

"We need more such projects in Europe as demand for microchips will continue to rise rapidly," she said, adding that the EU Commission and member states are aiming to unlock €43 billion ($47.5 billion) over the next few years to create a stronger and more resilient European chip supply. ®

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