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US targets China’s top chipmaking plant after Huawei Mate 60 Pro

US targets China’s top chipmaking plant after Huawei Mate 60 Pro

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US targets China's top chipmaking plant after Huawei Mate 60 Pro

The Biden administration is turning up the heat on China’s top sanctioned chipmaker by cutting off its most advanced factory from more American imports after it produced a sophisticated chip for Huawei’s Mate 60 Pro phone, three people familiar with the matter said.

Late last year, the Commerce Department sent dozens of letters to U.S. suppliers to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), suspending permission to sell to its most advanced plant, said two people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

While many companies had already stopped selling to SMIC South, as the unit is known, the letters halted millions of dollars worth of shipments of chipmaking materials and parts from at least one supplier, Entegris, one of the people said.
Reuters found no evidence that Entegris had violated any U.S. laws or regulations.

Entegris said it made the shipments in accordance with a valid export license and halted them after receiving letters from the Commerce Department suspending permission to send products to SMIC South.

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The Massachusetts-based company, which produces filters, gases, chemicals, and products for handling wafers, the building blocks for making chips, said it monitors and complies with the “rapidly evolving regulatory requirements” for international trade affecting the chip industry.

SMIC did not respond to a request for comment. Huawei, the White House and the Commerce Department declined to comment.

“This is out-and-out economic bullying and will inevitably backfire,” said a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington. “We urge the U.S. side to stop overstretching the concept of national security and abusing the state power to suppress Chinese companies.

The license suspensions by the Commerce Department, first reported by Reuters, show the Biden administration has taken action against SMIC amid rising pressure from Republican China hawks to stem the flow of U.S. technology to the company and degrade its ability to make sophisticated chips.

That pressure has built since August, when sanctioned Chinese telecoms giant Huawei shocked the world with a new phone powered by a sophisticated chip. The Huawei Mate 60 Pro was seen as a symbol of the China’s technological resurgence despite Washington’s ongoing efforts to cripple its capacity to produce advanced semiconductors.

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The phone also prompted a review by the Biden administration to learn the details behind the chip that powers it, the most advanced semiconductor China has so far produced.

Critics say the round of letters don’t go far enough. Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Commerce Department should have acted sooner. “This was negligent work by [the agency] and casts further doubt on its ability to fulfill its national security mission,” he added in a statement to Reuters this month.
Commerce declined to comment on McCaul’s allegations of negligence.

RISING RESTRICTIONS

The United States has charted a slow course towards depriving SMIC and Huawei of access to advanced U.S. technology.

Huawei was added to a trade restrictions list in 2019 by the Trump administration over alleged sanctions violations. SMIC was added to the same list in 2020 for alleged ties to the Chinese military industrial complex. Both companies have previously denied wrongdoing.

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Being added to that list usually bars U.S. companies from selling to the targeted firms, but Trump gave the green light to shipments of certain items to Huawei and SMIC, allowing billions of dollars in U.S. goods to flow to them over the last few years.

The Biden administration unveiled new rules in October, 2022, which effectively banned U.S. suppliers from sending semiconductor tools and materials to advanced Chinese-run chipmaking factories in China including SMIC South. But U.S. rules allowed companies with preexisting licenses — which generally are valid for four years — to keep supplying the facility.

Entegris shipped chipmaking parts and materials to SMIC South between October 2022 and the end of last year, a person familiar with the matter said.

China accounted for 16% of Entegris’ $180 million in sales last year, the company said in its 2023 annual report, noting that recent U.S. export regulations “have reduced our ability to sell our products in China and it is possible future regulation could further reduce demand for our products.”

Lita Shon-Roy, CEO of market research firm Techcet, said SMIC South could likely turn to Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean sources for most chemicals and parts used in the chipmaking process.

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However, if SMIC’s top facility “saw its United States supply chain suddenly cut off, that could potentially interrupt their production for 3 to 9 months depending on inventories,” she said. She noted it would take time to find and conduct rigorous testing of new suppliers unless SMIC South had done so in advance.

Experts assert that SMIC South is the only SMIC factory with the capability of making the Mate 60’s 7 nanometer chip. Analysis firm Techsights also said in September a teardown of the phone revealed SMIC built the advanced processor to power it.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s that [factory],” said Doug Fuller, a chip industry expert with the Copenhagen Business School. 

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Apple CEO says looking into possibility of building manufacturing facility in Indonesia

Apple CEO says looking into possibility of building manufacturing facility in Indonesia

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Apple CEO says looking into possibility of building manufacturing facility in Indonesia

Apple Inc will look into the possibility of building a manufacturing facility in Indonesia, its CEO said on Wednesday after meeting President Joko Widodo.

Apple CEO Tim Cook arrived in Jakarta on Tuesday, after visiting Vietnam. He met with Jokowi, as the president popularly known, and will be inaugurating an academy for Apple developers on the island of Bali.

“We talked about the president’s desire to see manufacturing in the country, and it is something that we will look at,” Cook told reporters after the meeting. 

Apple has based much of its key manufacturing of iPads, AirPods and Apple Watches in Vietnam and suppliers for MacBooks are also investing in the country.

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Apple has no manufacturing facilities in Indonesia but has established four Apple Developer Academies.

Indonesia has a huge tech-savvy population, making the Southeast Asian nation a key target market for tech-related investment.

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TikTok quizzed by EU on TikTok Lite launch in France, Spain

TikTok quizzed by EU on TikTok Lite launch in France, Spain

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TikTok quizzed by EU on TikTok Lite launch in France, Spain

ByteDance’s TikTok has been given 24 hours to provide a risk assessment on its new app TikTok Lite launched this month in France and Spain on concerns of its potential impact on children and users’ mental health, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The move by EU industry chief Thierry Breton under EU tech rules known as the Digital Services Act (DSA) comes two months after he opened an investigation into TikTok over possible DSA breaches. 

The landmark DSA requires companies to do more to tackle illegal and harmful content on their platforms, with fines of up to 6% of their global annual turnover for violations.

The Commission on Wednesday said it had sent a request for information to TikTok, asking for more details on the risk assessment the social media company should have done before deploying TikTok Lite in the 27-country European Union.

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“This concerns the potential impact of the new ‘Task and Reward Lite’ programme on the protection of minors, as well as on the mental health of users, in particular in relation to the potential stimulation of addictive behaviour,” the EU executive said in a document seen by Reuters.

“TikTok must provide the risk assessment for TikTok Lite in 24 hours and the other requested information by 26 April 2024, after which the Commission will analyse TikTok’s reply, and then assess next steps.”

The Commission also asked for details on measures the company has put in place to mitigate systemic risks.

TikTok Lite, an app with a new functionality aimed at users aged 18+, was launched in France and Spain this month.

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SiTime introduces chip aimed at saving power in AI data centers

SiTime introduces chip aimed at saving power in AI data centers

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SiTime introduces chip aimed at saving power in AI data centers

SiTime (SITM.O) on Wednesday introduced a chip that it says is designed to help data centers built for artificial intelligence applications run more efficiently.

SiTime makes what are known as timing chips, whose job is set a steady beat for all the parts of a computer and keep them running together in sync, like a conductor in an orchestra directing multiple groups of instruments. The company says its new line of chips, called Chorus, can do so with 10 times more precision than older styles of timing chips.

SiTime CEO Rajesh Vashist said the company aims to help customers save electricity with that precision. SiTime’s chips themselves require less than a watt of power, but powerful AI chips such as Nvidia’s (NVDA.O) require more than 1,000 watts of power.

With a more precise clock to keep all the elements of a computer in sync, parts of the machine can be turned off for a few milliseconds at a time when they are not in use. Over the multiple years a power-hungry data center server might be in use, it can generate energy savings, though the amount will depend on how SiTime’s chips are used.

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“We deliver timing that they can rely on so that they can wake up their products and bring data more efficiently to them, rather than just running more often,” Vashist said in an interview.

SiTime said the chips will be available in the second half of this year.

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