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China’s homegrown semiconductor industry triumphs despite US chip sanctions

Huawei, has once again demonstrated the resilience of China’s homegrown semiconductor industry with the launch of its latest smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro. Despite the stringent US ban on chips and chipmaking technology, Huawei’s newest offering showcases the country’s progress in chip manufacturing.

The standout feature of the Huawei Mate 60 Pro is its cutting-edge Kirin 9000s chip, which boasts a sophisticated 7-nanometer processor fabricated in China by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC). A recent teardown of the device conducted by TechInsights for Bloomberg unveiled this breakthrough, underscoring China’s ability to navigate around certain restrictions and bolster its domestic chip ecosystem. Notably, Huawei, in its online launch, held back critical details such as the processor’s design and wireless connection speeds, leaving tech enthusiasts eagerly anticipating more information.

However, it’s essential to acknowledge that while China’s semiconductor industry shows promise, it’s not entirely immune to the impact of US chip sanctions. Questions loom over the production scale and timeline for SMIC’s processor used in the Mate 60 Pro. The rapid sell-out of the phone may indicate a limited supply of SMIC’s innovative chip. Additionally, it’s possible that Huawei tapped into previously stockpiled chips from TSMC, the Taiwanese chip giant, which were secured before September 2020 when Washington intensified its sanctions against Huawei’s access to advanced chips.

Furthermore, China’s domestic chipmakers face hurdles in achieving semiconductor advancements. The 7-nanometer processor, while impressive, lags behind TSMC’s 4-nanometer chips used in the latest iPhones. Breaking through the 7-nanometer barrier without access to ASML’s chipmaking equipment, a Dutch giant that’s barred from exporting its state-of-the-art technology to China, poses a formidable challenge.

Presently, Chinese chip manufacturers are maximizing existing resources to enhance semiconductors using older tools. However, without access to new equipment, their processes will remain laborious and outdated, increasing costs and limiting production capacity. Consequently, companies like SMIC may find themselves trailing several years behind their global competitors, particularly if additional restrictions further constrict China’s chip industry.

In conclusion, Huawei’s Mate 60 Pro and its domestically produced Kirin 9000s chip signify China’s progress in semiconductor technology. While this achievement is noteworthy, it also underscores the importance of addressing limitations and challenges ahead to ensure the long-term viability and competitiveness of China’s semiconductor industry.