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Assessing State of China Chip Innovation Growing More Challenging, Expert Says

Chinese semiconductor innovation could become “more difficult to assess” as Beijing grows more cautious about advertising its successes, which it fears could invite new U.S. export controls, said Paul Triolo, a China and technology policy expert.

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In a March 7 commentary for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Triolo wrote that Beijing may increasingly put “pressure” on companies to showcase a particular product while also “obscuring the processes that led to its production.” He added that trying to analyze China’s chip technology progress is “much more sensitive than it was in 2021, and getting beyond the publicly available data and talking to people within the industry in China” has been challenging.

Triolo, senior vice president for China and technology policy lead at Albright Stonebridge Group, said there will also be a “political dimension” to whether and how China releases information on its chip innovation. He pointed to Huawei’s breakthrough last year when it announced its new Mate 60 Pro+ smartphone using a 7 nanometer chip, a development that coincided with Commerce Secretary’s Gina Raimondo’s trip to China in September (see 2309190052 and 2309120005).

“The author’s sources indicate that it was pressure from the highest levels that resulted in Huawei’s release, over the objections of the company, of the Mate 60 during” Raimondo’s visit, Triolo wrote. “This was a not-so-subtle message, but is part of the ‘intense competition’ that will be seen going forward.”

The commentary also details how China is responding to portions of the U.S. export controls. Triolo wrote that Beijing is developing “new approaches to public-private collaboration to push innovation on key technologies,” such as advanced lithography tools. “Beijing, working closely with the private sector, is looking to overcome bottlenecks by easing the transfer of advanced state-backed [research and development] to designated private sector companies, by pushing companies to work together on critical technologies, and by pursuing approaches that have been successful in other sectors.”