China’s major breakthrough in the manufacture of microchips has undermined US President Joe Biden’s efforts to prevent Beijing accessing the most sophisticated technology.
The chips in Huawei’s new smartphone are made with cutting-edge technology developed in Europe. This technology is now subjected to trade restrictions.
TechInsights, a research company, analysed the Mate 60 main processor chip. It concluded that it was made using EUV or extreme ultraviolet (UV) lithography. EUV is a manufacturing process that uses advanced technology to etch the inner workings of a chip into its silicon.
EUV is a closely-guarded trade secret developed by Dutch firm ASML. It was incorporated into their multi-billion-dollar chip manufacturing machines. China has been largely prevented from purchasing these machines due to trade restrictions spearheaded primarily by the US.
Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, a foundry partly owned by the Chinese government, made the Mate 60’s chip.
Although the Mate 60 chips are benign, Washington will be concerned if Beijing has now access to this manufacturing techniqu.
President Biden is trying to limit China’s access the most advanced chip technologies , for fear they could be used in military applications.
SMIC, China’s largest microchip manufacturer was put on the US “blacklist”, in 2020, because its products posed an “unacceptable” risk of being used for military purposes. SMIC denies that it has any involvement with the military.
Dan Hutcheson, vice-chairman of TechInsights and the first to report on China’s breakthrough in tech, told Bloomberg: “It is a pretty significant statement for China.”
SMIC shares in Hong Kong jumped by 10pc on the news.
When it filed a patent for the technology, Huawei raised concerns that China made a breakthrough in EUV technology .
The Kirin 9000S in the new Mate 60 chip appears to be using a “7 nanometres” process node. This is a measurement of how powerful and small a chip’s electronic circuitry can be.
The current US sanctions prevent China from importing equipment to manufacture process nodes that are smaller than 14nm. This technology was considered cutting edge in 2015.
TechInsights Mr Hutcheson, in a research report: “This raises the question as to why China is unable to acquire the optics and materials needed to be able to produce EUV in its factories.
SMIC’s technological advances are on a rapid trajectory.
Huawei Mate 60 launched during the visit of US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to Beijing last week.
Huawei and SMIC have been contacted to comment.