China’s progress in the semiconductor war with the US, explained

24 April 2024 - 17:00

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Beijing has made important strides in the creation of semiconductors. So the Dragon could surprise Washington again.

China's progress in the semiconductor war with the US, explained

Against all odds, China could soon achieve significant results in the development of advanced semiconductors. The Naura Technology Group of Beijing has started research on lithography systems with the clear intention of providing the country with the ability to create integrated circuits with nanoscale characteristics. In other words, the Asian giant intends to independently produce increasingly smaller and, at the same time, powerful semiconductors.

But let’s go in order. Various local players are working to find "autarchy" solutions that can allow China to churn out cutting-edge chips without having to rely on the equipment of the Dutch giant Asml (which, essentially, produces systems that design the chip).

The news is highly relevant because, in the event of white smoke, the multiple attempts implemented so far by the United States to limit the production capacity of semiconductors made in China would be destined to have the same effect as a hole in the water. Washington recently asked the Netherlands to block the export to China of sophisticated lithography systems that use lasers to create chip circuits.

China’s sprint

As reported by Bloomberg there is a patent application by Huawei Technologies to be monitored extremely carefully. The company revealed a technique known as self-aligned quadruple patterning, or SAQP, that can etch lines onto silicon wafers multiple times to increase transistor density and chip performance. The patent, which combines advanced etching and lithography, will “increase the design freedom of circuit patterns,” according to a filing with the China National Intellectual Property Administration.

But what does all this mean? By using SAQP with deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography machines from Dutch giant ASML and Japanese suppliers such as Nikon, China could make sophisticated 5 nanometers chips without having to resort to more advanced extreme ultraviolet (EUV) tools ), available only from ASML itself. Chinese companies have been denied access to EUV technology, but have been stockpiling DUV machines in recent years out of fear of a tightening of export controls by Washington and its allies (as has reportedly happened).

“No force can stop the pace of development and scientific and technological progress of China,” Xi Jinping told Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a visit to Beijing, while the Chinese Trade Minister, Wang Wentao, told his Dutch counterpart Geoffrey van Leeuwen that the Netherlands should fulfill "contractual obligations" and ensure "normal" trade of lithographic machines.

Progress and developments

In short, China’s decades-long effort is on track to mature. Of course, the Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment Group (SMEE), the country’s only manufacturer of lithography systems, has come nowhere near developing machines that match the ASML-branded ones.

There are, however, some Chinese chip tool makers that have emerged as relevant players. The same ones that could help the country reduce its dependence on instruments imported from abroad. The aforementioned Chinese semiconductor equipment leader Naura Technology Group, for example, has conducted preliminary research on lithography systems.

However, it must be considered that China would still lag behind its rivals, even achieving the stable production of 7 or even 5-nanometer chips. Suffice it to say that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing has produced 3-nanometer chips for Apple and is expected to soon move to 2-nanometer silicon thanks to ASML’s latest EUV machines. Meanwhile, however, Beijing continues to accelerate.

Original article published on Italy 2024-04-22 06:57:00. Original title: I progressi della Cina nella guerra dei semiconduttori con gli Usa

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