Even the novel coronavirus outbreak could not dampen China's semiconductor ambitions. Initially, some analysts said that the lockdown of Wuhan in Hubei Province following the COVID-19 outbreak would cause a disruption in the Chinese government’s plan to foster the semiconductor industry as the city was home to a semiconductor plant of Yangtze Memory Technology Co. (YMTC).
However, the Chinese government made extraordinary efforts to keep the plant running. During the lockdown, most high-speed trains did not stop in Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. But according to the Nikkei Asian Review, the English version of the Japanese economic daily Nihon Keizai, some trains stopped in Wuhan. These trains kept special reserved carriages for officials returning to work in strategic industries such as semiconductors.
Nikkei said that about 300 engineers labored for more than a month since the beginning of the shutdown to keep the plant running. The special trains stopped in Wuhan to bring volunteer employees to relieve these engineers.
According to the report, beginning in February, YMTC sent cars to the station to pick up groups of staff, depositing them at a self-quarantine dormitory for a week before they were allowed to enter the main work site.
In addition, the local and central governments allowed YMTC to bring in materials and labor, and to ship finished products out of the province to distribution centers in Shanghai. YMTC even hired for positions in engineering, operations, integration, production business development and marketing during the lockdown.
Nikkei said that the Chinese government’s efforts to keep the plant running despite concerns about the spread of the virus show how committed it has become in its desire to build a strong semiconductor industry. It noted that the Chinese government is desperate to reduce its dependence on U.S. imports and to build homegrown competitors to the American, Korean and Taiwanese companies that dominate the semiconductor market.
“Beijing has thrown billions of dollars at the industry, creating a nascent boom that not even a global pandemic could deflate,” the report said. According to SEMI, China's semiconductor equipment investment hit US$12.9 billion last year, surpassing that of Korea (YS$10.52 billion).
Under the full support from the Chinese government, YMTC is building a huge memory chip plant that could, when finished, process 300,000 wafers a month, churning out output equivalent to more than 20% of global production of NAND flash memory chips. The company has just begun to produce China's first homemade 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory chips.