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China’s Legacy-Chip Investments Trouble U.S., Europe

The U.S. and Europe are working to address “China’s accelerated push into the production of older-generation semiconductors,” Bloomberg (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: Last year, the U.S. imposed restrictions on the export of certain advanced technologies to China. Beijing has reacted by investing heavily in building facilities making older chips that do not face such U.S. restrictions.

  • Legacy chips—those produced using 28-nanometer-and-larger equipment—remain critical in the global economy as components of everything from electric vehicles to military devices.
  • China is on track to build 26 semiconductor factories through 2026, while the U.S. is forecast to construct 16 facilities “that use 200-millimeter and 300-mm wafers.”

Why it’s a problem: “Senior EU and U.S. officials are concerned about Beijing’s drive to dominate this market for both economic and security reasons, [sources] said. They worry Chinese companies could dump their legacy chips on global markets in the future, driving foreign rivals out of business…”

  • If that were to happen, Western firms could become reliant on China for the chips, the sources say, and that could pose a national security risk.

Importance of legacy chips: The global pandemic demonstrated that older-model semiconductors remain important, as chip shortages hit companies’ bottom lines.

  • The U.S. and Europe have been trying to expand their own chip production to avoid a repeat. Efforts have included the 2021 CHIPS and Science Act, which set aside $52 billion to bolster domestic semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.

​​​​​​​A problem to solve: “Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo alluded to the problem during a panel discussion last week at the American Enterprise Institute. ‘The amount of money that China is pouring into subsidizing what will be an excess capacity of mature chips and legacy chips—that’s a problem that we need to be thinking about and working with our allies to get ahead of,’ she said.”

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