Where there's a will, there's Huawei to develop one's own chipmaking kit

Export restrictions and sanctions working well, we see

A sprawling industrial complex being built by Huawei near Shanghai will be used to research and develop chipmaking equipment to help the tech giant overcome restrictions imposed on it by the US, local sources are reportedly saying.

China's technology behemoth is building an R&D center in Qingpu District, Shanghai, scheduled to go into operation in June. This is said to cover 2 million square meters (21 million square feet) and set to employ nearly 30,000 technical personnel.

The site is expected to conduct research into technology for sectors such as wireless networks and smartphones, and according to Nikkei Asia will also be the location for its plan to develop and build lithography machines for manufacturing cutting-edge chips.

The Nikkei report also claims that Huawei has successfully hired numerous engineers that have been working with leading global suppliers of chipmaking equipment, such as Applied Materials, Lam Research, KLA, and Netherlands-based ASML, which is currently the only provider of the most advanced extreme ultraviolet (EUV) photolithography kit.

Last year, a former ASML employee based in China was accused of stealing trade secrets about advanced chipmaking equipment from the company. It was later claimed that the worker had likely been hired by Huawei.

According to Nikkei, experienced semiconductor engineers from leading chipmakers such as TSMC, Intel, and Micron are also being poached by Huawei.

Huawei declined to comment.

The US government has placed restrictions on the supply of advanced chipmaking equipment to Chinese companies, as well as cajoling allied nations to do the same, in a bid to curb Beijing's access to cutting-edge technology. Huawei has also been the target of various US sanctions.

These restrictions have led to China's chipmakers and other tech companies looking inwards for alternatives. Naura, China's leading supplier of semiconductor equipment, has seen its revenue more than quadruple since 2018, Nikkei says.

It was recently reported that Huawei and a chipmaking partner have filed patents for a low-tech method called self-aligned quadruple patterning (SAQP) that could allow them to make advanced semiconductors without the need for state-of-the-art lithography equipment.

The restrictions didn't stop Huawei from surprising the world last year with the release of the Mate 60 Pro, a premium smartphone powered by a 7nm homegrown processor produced by chipmaker SMIC, which Washington had not believed Chinese companies were capable of producing.

Reports surfaced last year that Huawei was creating a covert network of semiconductor plants across China, taking possession of two existing chip factories and building three others, allegedly under the names of other companies to hide its involvement.

Such moves were to allow Huawei to circumvent restrictions and indirectly purchase chipmaking equipment or other supplies that would otherwise be off-limits to the company, it was claimed.

This led the Biden administration to consider further measures against a number of Chinese semiconductor companies linked with Huawei, said to include chipmakers Qingdao Si'En, SwaySure, and Shenzhen Pensun Technology Co.

Washington is also understood to be pressuring the Netherlands to compel ASML not to honor service and repair contracts with Chinese chipmaker customers that have already purchased its lithography kit. ®

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