[Chip War] A heavy handed approach to blockading China’s semiconductor development, understanding the impact of the US chip ban

2022-10-17 Semiconductors TrendForce

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced new semiconductor restrictions on October 7 in the United States. In addition to existing restrictions on the logic IC sector, this new update extends to the memory category. In addition to Chinese-funded enterprises, the extent of these restrictions stipulates foreign-owned production centers located in China will also need to apply for approval on a case-by-case basis in order to continue to obtain manufacturing-related equipment. The US ban has far-reaching effects and may extend to the global chip industry.

U.S. ban hobbles China’s semiconductor industry, affecting foundry and memory industries

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced a series of chip export control measures on the 7th, which mainly restrict China’s ability to obtain advanced computing chips, develop supercomputers, and manufacture advanced semiconductors.

However, relevant restrictions also prohibit third-country companies such as TSMC from using US-made equipment to service Chinese customers without U.S. approval in some cases. According to TrendForce, a market research agency, the ban will expand the scope of these restrictions. In the future, it will target American companies, including CPUs, GPUs, and AI accelerators, used in HPC fields such as datacenters, AI, and supercomputers. All of these items will require review before export to China. In addition, foundries may no longer be able to manufacture any of the above-mentioned HPC-related chips for any Chinese IC design house.

TrendForce believes, regardless of whether the client is a Chinese or American IC design house, most HPC-related chips are currently manufactured by TSMC with mainstream processes at the 7nm, 5nm, or certain 12nm nodes. In the future, whether the situation is American factories no longer being able to export to the Chinese market or Chinese factories being unable to initiate projects and mass produce wafer starts, it will all have a negative impact on the future purchase order status of TSMC’s 7nm and 5nm processes.

In terms of memory, according to the new specifications announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the DRAM portion of sanctions will be limited to the 18nm process (inclusive) and equipment must be reviewed by the Department before import. This move will greatly restrict or delay the sustainable development of China’s DRAM sector and China’s memory manufacturers will be the first to bear the brunt of these sanctions.

TrendForce indicates that CXMT possesses the largest memory market share for a Chinese company in the domestic Chinese market. Since 2Q22, the company has been committed to moving from the 19nm process into the 17nm process. Although the purchase of machinery to fulfill future needs had been accelerated before the ban, volume is still insufficient. CXMT continues to build new plants, including Phase 2 in Hefei and SMBC (SMIC Jingcheng), which is in discussion with SMIC. All of these projects will face difficulties in obtaining equipment in the future.

The C2 plant of SK hynix’s DRAM production center in Wuxi is also affected by the restriction order. The factory accounts for approximately 13% of the world’s total DRAM production capacity and its process has evolved to 1Ynm and more advanced nodes.

In terms of NAND Flash, TrendForce indicates that the import of NAND production equipment into China will be further restricted in the future, especially for equipment used in the manufacture of product of 128 layers and above (inclusive), requiring prior approval before import. It is estimated that this ban will significantly impact the long-term plans of China’s YMTC to upgrade its factory campuses, restrict YMTC from further expanding its customer base as the ban may will greatly limit non-Chinese customers’ adoption and consideration of YMTC products, and impact Samsung’s Xi’an plant and Solidigm’s process migration plan in Dalian.

U.S. temporarily exempts several suppliers as ban disrupts supply chains

In order to mitigate excessive impact of the U.S. imposed China chip ban on the semiconductor industry, the U.S. recently exempted several semiconductor companies (including in the United States, Taiwan, and South Korea) from certain restrictions.

According to Wall Street Jounal, Intel, SK Hynix, and Samsung have all received one-year exemptions. SK Hynix also issued a statement stating that the company has completed negotiations with the U.S. Department of Commerce and has obtained approval to provide equipment and items required for the development and production of DRAM semiconductors in Chinese manufacturing plants without additional licensing requirements. The authorization period is one year.

In addition, Nikkei Asia News also quoted sources as saying that TSMC has also received a one-year exemption to continue ordering U.S. chip manufacturing equipment to expand its Chinese plant. According to people familiar with the matter, the U.S. government has assured TSMC that the equipment will be shipped to its Nanjing fab, which means the company’s China’s development plan remains unchanged and is progressing smoothly.

(Image credit: iStock)