China is aiming to raise its self-sufficiency ratio in the semiconductor industry to at least 70 percent by 2025. Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. (JHICC), which has been playing a critical role in the efforts, has recently given up on DRAM development after UMC, a Taiwanese foundry that developed DRAM chips JHICC, disbanded its DRAM development team.
Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. (YMTC) is currently leading the development of NAND flash memories in China and JHICC and Innotron Memory Co. have played the same role regarding DRAMs for servers and mobile DRAMs, respectively. YMTC unveiled 32-layer NAND chips last year, but JHICC and Innotron Memory have yet to show their products. For reference, South Korean semiconductor manufacturers released 90-layer NAND chips last year.
Nonetheless, the United States is making an issue of JHICC over and over. This is because system performance depends on DRAM chips, which are higher in technological level and importance than NAND chips, which can be regarded as a type of storage. “The United States thinks that it will be able to protect its semiconductor market in the future if it keeps China at bay in the DRAM market,” said an industry insider, adding, “JHICC has become its target in this regard.”
JHICC was founded in February 2016 based on the Chinese government’s and Fujian Province’s US$5.6 billion investment and has concentrated on DRAM development in cooperation with UMC. The U.S. Department of Commerce banned U.S. companies from exporting semiconductor equipment and materials to JHICC in October last year, citing national security.
JHICC cannot produce semiconductors without equipment and material supply from Applied Materials, Lam Research and KLA-Tencor. According to the U.S. government, JHICC stole semiconductor design technology from Micron Technology. The U.S. Justice Department charged JHICC and UMC with industrial espionage.
The United States and Taiwan have maintained a very close partnership in the global semiconductor industry. Both UMC and TSMC, the largest foundry company in the world, have greatly benefited from semiconductor design projects from the United States. In other words, Taiwanese semiconductor firms cannot but take sides with the United States in the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.
The tariff side of the trade war is showing some signs of easing these days. However, the race for technological supremacy, which is another form of the trade war, is likely to continue for a while. With the importance of semiconductor technology higher than ever, the U.S. government is unlikely to ease up on JHICC. In addition, the U.S. government believes that industrial supremacy is directly related to national security.