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Semiconductors, China's Achilles Heel of Power

Twenty years after starting to block Westerners in the name of his “Cybersovereignty” – a movement that has only grown over the years – China seems helpless by the current swing back. By banning any company in the world using American hardware from delivering semiconductors to Chinese telecoms group Huawei in May, Donald Trump caused a cataclysm in China.

Less spectacular than the decoupling of the Internet giants – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft on the one hand, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi on the other – a new technological iron curtain is being put in place: that of essential electronic components. “It will be a disaster, we are all going to be losers, Americans and Chinese”, says an official from a Chinese tech company that has just been expelled from the United States.

Accelerated investments

While China's tech flagships have little to envy their North American rivals, China's dependence on foreign semiconductors remains its main Achilles heel. Since 2015, integrated circuits have become its main import point, ahead of oil.

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Of course, as always, China has set itself ambitious goals: to produce 40% of the semiconductors it needs in 2020 and 70% in 2025. In fact, it does not even reach 18% this year. and should barely exceed 20% in five years. “Underdevelopment [actuel] of the chip production base and the increasing difficulties in obtaining industrial equipment for their manufacture from the United States will make it difficult for China to become self-sufficient in the production of integrated circuits in the near future ”, acknowledges the China Internet Report 2020, released in July by the South China Morning Post. For these specialists, “Semiconductor companies in the United States and Taiwan are two to three generations ahead of China, roughly five to ten years of research and development.”.

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China, which is banking on its advance in artificial intelligence to catch up, is therefore working hard. All Chinese electronics manufacturers and their subcontractors are stepping up their investments so that the country can become self-sufficient. The state will help them. The 14the The five-year plan (2021-2025), which will be presented in mid-October, should, according to the Bloomberg agency, include an envelope of 1.4 trillion dollars to help the industry develop so-called third-generation chips.

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