“If you know the enemy and know yourself … you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”
— General, strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu
It appears that US attempts to enforce trade restrictions on China over semiconductor chips, has done what many analysts predicted — it has awakened a sleeping giant.
Among others, Thomas Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, said during a recent online forum that China intends to build an entire microchip supply chain from end to end.
In other words, it will no longer be dependent on US technologies, according to the country’s latest five-year plan.
And if any nation can do that, you know it is China.
It has recently made new breakthroughs in its 7nm chip-making process, reportedly developing tools and know-how for several segments of the manufacturing process.
Last month, China’s chip customization solution provider Innosilicon announced that it had taped out and completed testing of a prototype chip based on the FinFET N+1 process of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), PR Newswire reported.
This achievement marks a major step forward in China’s homegrown chip development amid efforts to reduce reliance on foreign equipment and material vendors.
Amid major trade restrictions enforced by the United States, SMIC’s new generation foundry node is said to be comparable to the 7nm process by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest dedicated independent semiconductor foundry, PR Newswire reported.
As China’s largest chip foundry, SMIC will introduce its N+1 7nm node, marking a significant improvement over its current 14 nm production node, boasting a 20% increase in performance, power consumption reduction of 57%, a reduced logic area of 63%, and SoC (System on a Chip) area reduction of 55%, according to the company.
Moreover, the N+1 foundry node may enable SMIC to break its reliance on advanced Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines produced by Dutch microchip machine maker ASML, according to Liang Mengsong, co-CEO of SMIC. ASML is subject to US export controls as its products contain American technology, PR Newswire reported.
At the same time, China is working hard to develop its own lithography system.
The Suzhou Institute of Nano-tech and Nano-Bionics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Sinano), along with the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, recently announced a breakthrough in a new type of 5nm laser lithography technology.
Experts believe it could lay the foundation for research into a self-developed advanced lithography machine, PR Newswire reported.
The new technology has broken the traditional constraint in laser direct writing (LDW) with its ability to process at the nano level. In addition to ultra-high precision, the technology also demonstrates potential for mass production.
As the world’s largest semiconductor market, China has been spending aggressively in semiconductor investment, acquisition, and talent recruitment to bolster the industry by on-shoring chip manufacturing equal to those of the world’s top foundries.
A report by Goldman Sachs on July 2 predicted that China may be capable of producing 7nm chips by 2023.
Intel, of course, is America’s largest producer of semiconductors, and one of the world’s biggest microchip manufacturers, National Interest reported.
In fact, it’s the only major US-owned producer that still manufactures state-of-the-art logic chips domestically — or at least is still trying to.
This capability matters decisively for US technological competitiveness because these are the products whose current capabilities and vast potential drive the so-called process innovation that enables the entire microelectronics industry to create faster, more powerful products, National Interest reported.
Most of the rest of the semiconductor sector — both in the US and elsewhere in the world — has transitioned to a so-called “fabless” business model, in which companies develop and design semiconductors while letting contract manufactures handle the challenge of building and operating ever more expensive fabrication facilities (or “fabs” for short).
As such, semiconductors continue to play a central role in making information technology hardware and enabling it to use all the software developed for these devices — including the networking gear that houses the Internet and are the keys to creating new generations of state-of-the-art weapons systems, National Interest reported.
It’s easy to understand then why alarm bells have gone off on Wall Street and in the American national security community.
Intel not only announced that it had bungled its effort to mass manufacture a new family of chips, but raised the prospect of exiting semiconductor manufacturing altogether.
As a result, America will become increasingly hard-pressed to use it to handle challenges in artificial intelligence, networking, cybersecurity, and the like that will continue to increasingly dominate military operations, National Interest reported.
Sources: China.org.cn, PR Newswire, The National Interest