S. Korean chipmakers face US-China balancing act for market supremacy

Concerns are growing that SK Hynix’s plan to overhaul its Chinese factory with advanced chip machines could be jeopardized by US opposition.

Earlier this week, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai acknowledged that Washington had opposed such efforts by the South Korean chip maker to bring advanced machines to its chip factory in Wuxi, China, during a radio interview in Seoul.

“There are legitimate concerns about the risks to national security in terms of where this technology will end up,” she said, implying that such high-tech tools could be used to enhance China’s military capabilities and other strategic industries.

The technology in question is the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography from the Dutch company ASML Holding, essential to package smaller and smaller transistors in microchips to make them faster, more powerful and more energy-efficient, reports Yonhap news agency.

The Precarious Geopolitical Situation SK Hynix’s income stands in stark contrast to a recent announcement by Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest memory chip maker, to make a $17 billion investment in the US to enhance its competitive advantage in the global semiconductor industry. to reinforce.

Two days after Tai made the comments, Samsung unveiled a plan to build a new chip factory in Taylor, Texas, to produce advanced chips used in mobile, 5G, high-performance computing and artificial intelligence applications. based on EUV technology .

Samsung has been working closely with ASML on technical breakthroughs in semiconductor development since the early 2000s. It is a close partner, an investor and also a customer of the Dutch company.

In March last year, the South Korean tech giant became the first in the… chip industry to successfully adopt EUV technology in DRAM production.

SK Hynix, the world’s second largest manufacturer of memory chips after Samsung, is a latecomer when it comes to adopting EUV technology.

Despite unexpected challenges, SK Hynix signed a five-year contract with ASML earlier this year to purchase approximately 20 more EUV machines, a major investment to upgrade facilities and increase competitiveness.

SK Hynix is ​​estimated to have two or three EUV machines, far fewer than the 17-19 machines owned by Samsung and about 40 by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC).

The company’s spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency on Friday that there had been no discussions about bringing EUV equipment to China, nor an immediate plan to do so, and that it was premature to discuss any US restriction. regarding the plan to review it. its Chinese factory.

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