The United States pressures the Netherlands so that ASML does not sell older chip production machines to China


The technological tug-of-war between the United States and China is far from over despite the changing colors at the White House. The policy of sanctions and restrictions deployed by Donald Trump has continued (with his changes) during the time of Joe Biden, and the latest news suggests that nothing is going to change substantially in the short term. In fact, the disagreements could be accentuated, since multiple media indicate that the United States is pressuring the Netherlands so that the Dutch ASML does not sell less modern photolithography machines to China.

According to the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post and the news agency Bloombergthe United States plans to extend the restrictions against the export of tools necessary for the production of hardware, and if currently the measures only cover advanced processes such as the use of extreme ultraviolet light (EUVL), the intention would be to also cover those that make use of light deep ultraviolet (DUV), typically associated with chips with nodes 14nm and larger.

Although DUV technology is considered relatively old, it still has a large presence in the production of chips used in numerous industries. Of course, it is also possible to find chips made with DUV processes in state-of-the-art hardware, since not all chips in a phone, computer or car have to use ultra-reduced processes.

Neither the US nor the Netherlands governments have wanted to comment on this, although an ASML spokesman has pointed out that this conversation “is not new”, adding that “no decisions have been made and we do not want to speculate or comment on based on rumours. What has transpired is that ASML considers that DUV is a mature technology, as well as that it opposes a block on its exports.

ASML, remember, markets the photolithographic machines used by virtually every processor manufacturer in the world, from Intel to TSMC to Samsung and numerous other companies. Since its founding in 1984 it has steadily grown in prominence, and right now without its machines there would be no semiconductor industry. Not at least as we know it.

According to information from the South China Morning Post, ASML would not be the only company subject to restrictions. Nikon, which also supplies the industry with chipmaking machines and competes to a very limited extent with ASML, is reportedly the subject of similar talks between the United States and Japan. From the Japanese company they have preferred not to make statements.

an uphill race

Latest generation photolithographic machine (EUVL) from ASML.

Chip manufacturing is often compared to the production of jet engines. Both took off in the 1950s and those countries that were not involved in the development of these technologies from the beginning almost irretrievably missed the boat. The design of a high-performance jet engine requires an accumulated scientific knowledge and an industrial base that cannot be developed by injecting money alone, and the same goes for the production of processors.

The result is analogous. Just as there are only a small number of countries capable of designing and manufacturing jet engines without significant outside assistance, there are only a handful that can design and manufacture chips using modern processes. Something that China is painfully aware of, having invested billions of euros in what turned out to be resounding bankruptcies such as Tacoma Semiconductor Technology Y Wuhan Hongxin Semiconductorwhich promised state-of-the-art chips of their own and ended up in absolute fiasco.

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Written by Editor TLN

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