Semiconductors, also known as integrated circuits or microchips, are fundamental in the design and functioning of electronic devices, being omnipresent in many electronic products. Their importance is also crucial in strategic sectors such as defense and national security, where they are used in weaponry systems and aerospace technology.
The global semiconductor market heavily depends on Taiwanese production, with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) being a giant in the sector, accounting for 53% of global production in 2020. However, tensions between China and Taiwan have prompted the United States to revise their economic policies, aiming to rebuild their national semiconductor production. Both under the Trump and Biden administrations, the US aimed to limit China’s capabilities in the sector, through embargoes, the resumption of internal production, and the formation of international alliances.
A notable case was the embargo imposed by Trump in 2019, which limited Huawei in using main Google applications and in the production of its HiSilicon Kirin processors, banning collaboration with TSMC. The US also persuaded Japan, South Korea, and the Netherlands to impose stricter restrictions against China in this field.
OMMIC, a strategic French company specializing in semiconductors, was acquired in 2023 by the American company Macom Technology Solutions. This transition raised security concerns, as OMMIC possessed crucial technologies for French defense and the space industry.
Furthermore, the company was involved in suspicions of espionage in favor of China, with its Chinese-nationality president, Ruodan Zhang, accused of facilitating the export of semiconductors to China at reduced prices. This situation highlighted France’s involvement in the so-called “chip war” between China and the USA.
The case of OMMIC is not isolated: in 2023, Huawei introduced a new smartphone with an advanced 5G processor, despite the American embargo. It is suspected that this was made possible through the use of components from foreign companies, despite the restrictions.
China has also intensified its efforts to develop an autonomous semiconductor production, despite the obstacles posed by the American embargo. This strategy includes both industrial espionage and investment in the national semiconductor industry.
In conclusion, the American embargo is becoming obsolete in the face of China’s growing autonomy in this sector. The restrictions have accelerated China’s policy of self-sufficiency, especially with the restriction of access to rare metals essential for semiconductor production. This situation underscores a growing challenge for American strategy and the importance of security and technological independence on a global scale.