China’s slowdown in metal exports reverberates across the chip sector

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Trade officials assessed the fallout from the latest escalation in the US-China technology battle after Beijing said it would curb exports of metals used in chipmaking.

South Korea̵[ads1]7;s trade ministry called an emergency meeting to discuss China’s decision to control exports of gallium and germanium, metals used in chips, electric vehicles and a range of telecom products.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of the measure being extended to other items,” said Joo Young-joon, South Korea’s vice trade minister.

Japanese Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Tokyo was studying the impact on its companies as well as checking Beijing’s plans for implementing the controls. Tokyo kept the door open to action at the World Trade Organization, warning it would oppose any violation of international rules.

South Korea and Taiwan are home to Samsung and TSMC, companies that dominate semiconductor manufacturing, while Japanese groups play a critical role in the chip supply chain.

Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Roy Lee said Beijing’s move is likely to have some short-term consequences, including price increases. The export control “will be a kind of accelerator for countries including Taiwan, South Korea and Japan to reduce our dependence on China for supplies of these critical materials,” Lee added.

In Germany, Europe’s largest importer of metals, Wolfgang Niedermark, board member of industry lobby group BDI, said the controls illustrated how dangerous Europe’s dependence on China was.

It was “urgent for Europe and Germany to quickly reduce dependence” on China for critical raw materials, he added. The German government will give Intel 10 billion euros in subsidies for a project to build a fabrication plant in Magdeburg.

Beijing’s announcement on Monday showed how President Xi Jinping’s administration is willing to target Western interests in response to Washington tightening curbs on China’s access to sophisticated technology. The metal restrictions are significant because China dominates the production of many raw materials critical to modern technology and infrastructure.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Tuesday that China has “always implemented fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory export control measures”. She said the measures were “a common international practice and do not target any specific country”.

Gallium and germanium are among dozens of minerals classified by the US government as critical to economic and national security. The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The move comes just days ahead of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit to Beijing, which begins on Thursday, in a trip billed as an attempt to stabilize turbulent US-China relations.

“This looks like a blow from China thrown at the US – a warning about what supply chain disruptions can do to inflation, interest rates and the presidential election,” said CW Chung, an analyst at Nomura, in Singapore.

According to officials and experts in China, Beijing is expected to introduce further retaliatory measures in response to the expansion of US-led controls on technology exports.

“There will be more retaliatory measures against the snowballing export control of semiconductors from Western countries,” said a senior official close to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Shares in Chinese producers of gallium and germanium rose on Tuesday after the announcement, with traders expecting the export controls to push up the price of the metals.

Chip-making metals are controlled by China


Gallium is used to make semiconductor wafers used in integrated circuits and important light-emitting devices used in advanced circuits and solar cells. These are components in a wide range of technologies, including telephones, high-performance computers and medical devices.

The metal is a by-product recovered from the processing of bauxite and zinc, and is then converted into gallium arsenide, which is used in wafer production.

China controls 98 percent of global production, estimated at 430,000 kg in 2021. The processing of gallium into gallium arsenide is spread across North America, Europe and Asia. The metal is currently not recyclable, and there is no substitute for its use in certain products.


Germanium is used to produce a silicon alloy for high-speed devices commonly found in many electrical products such as electronics, solar applications and fiber optics.

China controls 68 percent of global refinery output, projected at 140,000 kg in 2021. The rest of processing is spread across Europe and North America.

Germanium is more readily available than gallium, with around 30 percent of the global supply produced from recycled materials. The US also makes germanium, and has reserves of 80,000 kg by 2021. Silicon and other compounds can be used as replacements for germanium, but often at the expense of performance.

Source: United States Geological Survey

Yunnan Lincang Xinyuan Germanium Industrial closed down the maximum 10 percent allowed in Shenzhen on Tuesday, while shares in Yunnan Chihong Zinc & Germanium closed 6 percent higher. The rally added a total of $350 million to the companies’ combined market value.

“We will see China engage in extraterritorial application of its laws, renege on treaty obligations, and impose countermeasures in a light-hearted manner — all in the name of China’s perceived national security and public interests,” said James Zimmerman. a lawyer at Perkins Coie in Beijing.

Zimmerman also pointed out that China last week passed a law on foreign relations that, in Beijing’s eyes, has strengthened the legal basis for countermeasures against Western threats to national and economic security.

Kim Yang-paeng, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, said the restrictions were “worrying” for South Korean chip makers.

“Korean companies can find alternative sources, but it will take some time . . . if you lack any materials, no matter how important they are, this can affect chip production,” he said.

Samsung and SK Hynix, the world’s two largest manufacturers of memory chips, declined to comment.

Infineon, the largest supplier of semiconductors to the automotive industry, said it saw no “major impact” on material supply. The Munich-based company added that the ban followed a “multi-sourcing strategy to include suppliers in different geographies”.

Chinese nationalist tabloid Global Times said the export controls followed the US and some of its allies “relentlessly stepping up the crackdown on China’s technological development”.

Reporting by Edward White and Song Jung-a in Seoul, Qianer Liu, Hudson Lockett, Gloria Li and Greg McMillan in Hong Kong, Kathrin Hille in Taipei, Kana Inagaki in Tokyo and Patricia Nilsson in Frankfurt

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