US lobbied hard to deny China EUV lithography
It was reported in November 2019 that ASML was unable to ship a EUV lithography machine to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (Shanghai, China) because a required dual-use export license had expired (see ASML delays Chinese delivery of EUV lithography tool).
Dual-use refers to the applicability of technology to both commercial and military applications. Lack of access to EUV lithography semiconductor manufacturing effectively keeps Chinese chip manufacturing capability trapped behind the leading-edge in chip manufacturing. EUVL is used for sub-10nm chip manufacturing. At present Chinese chip companies and firms such as Huawei only have access to leading-edge technology by purchasing chips from the foundry TSMC.
Reuters has reported that US officials up to and including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lobbied the Dutch government from late 2018 through to mid 2019 not to allow the export of a first EUV lithography stepper, although the granting of the export license was within Dutch government’s jurisdiction.
Such dual-use exports are covered by the Wassenaar agreement which in 1996 replaced the cold war era Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). At that time the US and the west were so far ahead of the USSR and China that restrictions were allowed to relax.
Under the Wassenaaar agreement the US can block the export of equipment in which US components make up more than 25 percent of the content. The Reuters report states that in the case of ASML lithography machines this is not the case.
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Reuters said that in July 2019 Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman gave Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte an intelligence report on the potential repercussions of China gaining access to ASML’s EUV lithography.
ASML’s export license had expired on June 30 2019 and no new license was granted in the following eight-week period during which a renewal would normally be considered.
The Reuters report adds that the US administration said it is considering reducing the percentage requirement under Wassenaar for certain types of equipment.
Although EUV lithography tool could cost up to $100 million ASML is a near monopoly supplier of lithography equipment and has large sales out of China for previous generations of equipment.
China’s leading semiconductor equipment supplier is Advanced Micro-Fabrication Equipment Inc. China (AMEC) with expertise in both etch equipment and MOCVD.
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