ASML caves to US pressure to cease servicing some kit used by Chinese customers

Not even maintenance is OK in the eyes of the Uncle Sam

Under US pressure, Dutch photolithography giant ASML will no longer service certain chipmaking equipment purchased by Chinese customers.

Former CEO Peter Wennink, who has since been succeeded by Christophe Fouquet, announced the new limitation at the company's annual general meeting, Reuters reported.

The US government has been pushing ASML to quit servicing chipmaking tools in China since early March in a bid to curb the potency of China's semiconductor industry.

The chip equipment maker might not have much of a choice, especially when it comes to servicing machines with US-made parts. "We can service them, but not with US content, with spare parts that come out of the US that are under export control," the outgoing ASML CEO said. The Netherlands is tightly integrated with the US and its allies, and going against American export restrictions is not seen as feasible for the country.

The move is not a complete capitulation, though, as Wennink said "most" Chinese-owned tools can still be serviced throughout the year. Only in certain cases will ASML not fix equipment in China.

While deep ultraviolet (DUV) tech has since been superseded by extreme ultraviolet (EUV) hardware, DUV machines are crucial for China's legacy node fabs and are also reportedly used for the country's more cutting-edge processes at 7nm and beyond. At the 7nm level or smaller, EUV is what companies like TSMC and Intel use, but DUV can still be employed even if it results in poorer yields or worse-than-expected performance and efficiency.

Despite China representing a substantial portion of ASML's business, Wennink said the end of servicing for some machines won't particularly affect its balance sheet as the restrictions only apply to a "limited number."

Although ASML's somewhat limited servicing will have a negative impact on Chinese semiconductor fabs, in the long term it will only push the country's industry to do the job itself. Huawei, one of China's key tech companies, is already investing in developing its own equipment for chip manufacturing, and presumably will perform its own maintenance too. Although China's tech won't be cutting-edge, it will at least be independent. ®

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