[News] China’s Strategic Chip Investments May Risk Global Domination in Two Years

2023-11-28 Semiconductors editor

China is actively investing in chips with a mature process of 20nm and above. According to Chosun Ilbo, some insiders signal a potential shift of over 50% of global mature-node chips production to China within the next 2 to 3 years. As semiconductors focusing on mature process account for 75% of overall chip demand, China’s growing influence in this sector raises significant security concerns.

During the APEC SME Technology Conference and Fair in Qingdao on the 9th of this month, Wei Li, former Vice President of SMIC, emphasized the necessity for China to prioritize the localization of semiconductors with a 20nm process and above. This category includes semiconductors focusing on mature process, where Li acknowledged China’s technology lags behind international counterparts by more than 5 years.

Despite China’s efforts for independent development, the semiconductor industry faces comprehensive restrictions from the United States, heavily relying on imports for materials, equipment, and design software, with only about 10% being domestically produced. China, holding over 1/3 of the global chip market, struggles with a self-sufficiency rate below 15%, hindering its industrial progress, especially with foreign countries imposing export controls on advanced process and equipment.

According to South Korean media reports, concerns have arisen within the industry about the potential impact on the global semiconductor supply chain as China expands its mature processes. Despite the recent surge in demand for advanced chips like AI chips and servers, semiconductors focusing on mature process still constitute 75% of overall demand. These chips are crucial not only in autonomous vehicles, automobiles, and home appliances but also in military applications. If China monopolizes this market, it could lead to a severe security crisis.

China is rapidly increasing its market share in the mature-node chips sector, with the government offering up to a 10-year corporate tax exemption for new domestic semiconductor plants. Last year, SMIC invested USD 8.9 billion in Shanghai to build a 28nm plant.

Data from TrendForce indicates that China plans to construct 32 semiconductor plants by 2024, surpassing Taiwan’s 19 and the United States’ 12.

China’s Wafer Fabs Hits 44 with Future Expansion 32, Mainly Targeting on The Mature Process

China’s Expansion into the mature process market poses big challenges for Korean enterprises. Chinese companies are gaining ground in various sectors, including the image sensor market, encompassing DDI semiconductors used in OLED panels. Beyond manufacturing capabilities, China has achieved noteworthy levels of design expertise in semiconductor technologies.

On the other hand, in previous press release, TrendForce predicted China’s mature process capacity to grow from 29% this year to 33% by 2027. Leading the charge are giants like SMIC, Hua Hong Group, and Nexchip, while Taiwan’s share is estimated to consolidate from 49% down to 42%.

TSMC, UMC, and Samsung are the frontrunners in this technology currently. Yet, Chinese players like SMIC and Nexchip are hot on their heels, swiftly closing the gap. SMIC’s 28HV and Nexchip’s 40HV are gearing up for mass production in 4Q23 and 1H24, respectively—narrowing their technological gap with other foundries.

Forecast of Global Mature Process Capacity Distribution by Region, 2023-2027

China’s Share in Mature Process Capacity Predicted to Hit 29% in 2023, Climbing to 33% by 2027, Says TrendForce

As China enhances its influence over mature-node chips, both the U.S. and the EU are contemplating countermeasures. Despite months of discussions, there are still no concrete results regarding these potential measures.
(Image: SMIC)