U.S. sanctions on China's chip industry precipitate blowback
Updated 15:03, 07-Mar-2022
Straight Talk

Editor's note: Technology competition has become a hot topic in media reports, with Huawei in the center. Why is technology competition under the spotlight?  What does the Huawei case tell us? Philip Chen, a chair professor at South China University of Technology, vice director of Pazhou Lab in Guangdong Province and a member of the Academia Europaea (AE), offers some clues. The views expressed in the video are his own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

CGTN: As reports have pointed out, science and technology will be a main area of competition between major powers. As countries increase their investments in technology and research, what's your take on the future competition between countries, especially between China and the U.S. in this field?

Philip Chen: China's investment in science and technology now ranks second in the world, slightly behind the U.S., and our investment in scientific research far exceeds that of other countries. But in per capita terms, we invest less than other countries, especially the U.S.

China is a leading player in technology research and also in other areas. Some key technologies, however, were first used in European countries and the U.S., which means they devote more time to the patents and technologies. As such, China is not able to compete in these areas for now. But with more time and investment, we can catch up quickly in terms of expertise.

Now a major issue is the impact of U.S. sanctions on China's chip industry. First, as China is a major manufacturing country, the shortage of chips will weigh on many industries related to people's livelihoods, and could even affect the entire industrial chain. That would not only affect China, but the entire world, damaging the international industrial chain. With the sanctions imposed, other countries will also find it hard to sell their products to other parts of the world. So this really pulls the whole world into this problem.

CGTN: Chips are vital to technology businesses and even countries. As Chinese companies like Huawei scale up their own research and development of chips, how do you evaluate the future of chips?

Chen: Huawei has its own chips, the Ascend series. It is carrying out the planning of its entire industrial chain, moving forward step by step. This takes time. Other countries have accumulated experience for two or three decades in manufacturing chips. From the most basic lithography machines to specific materials and techniques, it is all integration. None of that can be done in a matter of two or three years.

Now I think the main issue is high costs. Making chips involves many failures. It is likely you'll have just one good chip among 100 chips that have been made. So in terms of application, for people's livelihoods, this market is not completely ready to be in full use. It's likely that this technology needs to be improved.

To create a solution to this problem, it will probably be most useful to start from the basic machines. I mentioned above that the lithography machines are a major issue. Now there are only one or two companies that can manufacture lithography machines in the world. If they did not sell to China, China would not be able to do it. So this is the main obstacle.

CGTN: Which will become mainstream: hegemony or cooperation? Why?

Chen: I think that cooperation will be the way forward, because technology requires global cooperation. As I mentioned, whether it's raw materials, basic materials, or machines, no country can do everything alone. Therefore, in terms of the role of technology in innovation, I think we need to cooperate with other countries. Technologies are meant to be shared. You can use my technology and I can use yours.

Interviewer: Yang Chuchu

Cameramen: Zhao Jing

Video editing: Feng Ran

Producer:  Wang Xinyan

Supervisor: Mei Yan

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