The clock is ticking and Korea wants to know if its chipmakers will get their export license extension

SK hynix and Samsung do so much memory-making in China, ending sanction exemptions would be extraordinary

South Korean and US officials met this week to discuss the future of Chinese export controls as the clock ticks down on exceptions enjoyed by Samsung and SK hynix.

In a meeting with US deputy secretary of commerce Don Graves in Seoul on Friday, South Korea's industry minister Bang Moon-kyu asked the US to clarify the future of export controls that limit the semiconductors that can enter and/or exit China.

According to Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the two governments "agreed to continue cooperation."

Graves reportedly said the US will "do everything" to make sure South Korean firms can continue to conduct legitimate business.

The controls, introduced in October 2022, restrict the export to China of software and equipment used to produce DRAM chips below 18nm, NAND silicon over 128 layers, or logic processors below 14nm.

The same month the bans were introduced, Korean chipmakers Samsung and SK hynix were among those granted a one-year exemption.

When the bans went into effect, 25 percent of SK hynix's – and 38 percent of Samsung's – NAND wafer production was reportedly produced in China, along with 50 percent of SK hynix's DRAM.

The waivers allowed the two South Korean chipmakers, the world's leading sources of memory, to continue to supply equipment to their Chinese fabs without a licensing agreement.

What happened once the year-long exceptions ended was, and remains, a mystery, although South Korea's then-minister for industry Lee Chang-yang said in May 2023 that he believed an extension was likely.

China is believed to be feeling the squeeze caused by US export controls, even as it finds workarounds.

Taiwan's United Daily News reported on Thursday that NAND flash capacity at China's Yangtze Storage is booked up for the next six months. NAND prices have reportedly surged in China in the face of choked supply chains. Releases of new smartphones – such as Huawei's Mate 60 Pro – haven't helped matters.

The phone itself has caused a stir as it was believed that China did not have the capacity to produce the 7nm system-on-chip within the device.

A teardown of the Mate 60 Pro revealed it contained export-restricted LPDDR5 memory chips from SK hynix. The chip shop denied it had done business with Huawei. ®

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