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Top European chip companies seek stability amid US-China dispute

Top European chipmakers say they are seeking stability for their businesses in China as Washington’s export controls further complicate global supply chains operations.

Chief executives of STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and NXP Semiconductors on Monday said that while they are in compliance with Washington’s export restrictions against China’s semiconductor sector, they have no plans to halt their operations in the Asian country, the world’s second-largest economy.

The comments came during the CEO Roundtable special event at Electronica in Munich, one of the biggest semiconductor trade shows in Europe.

“[China] is about 30 per cent of our total revenue, and this is the market we do not want to escape, we want to continue to support,” said Jean-Marc Chery, STMicroelectronics chief executive. “We just want the world to provide us stability. We can adapt to changes, but if we are changing every six months, it is difficult.”

The US Department of Commerce in early October launched a new round of export control measures to curb China’s capability in building advanced computing technologies and artificial intelligence by restricting access to US technologies.

European companies that supply tools used in chip production, such as ASML, and European chipmakers are less affected by the new rules than American companies, as their products for the Chinese market are more about mature chip production technologies, rather than the advanced ones targeted by Washington.

Nevertheless, European chip companies are worried geopolitical uncertainties caused by mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing could disrupt their operations in China. The Financial Times on Sunday reported the Joe Biden administration has been trying to form a trilateral agreement with its allies in Europe and Asia to make it more difficult for China to build advanced chips for military use.

“[The new export controls] did not impact us. But of course nobody knows what the next one will look like,” NXP chief executive Kurt Sievers told the FT on the sideline of the event.

Sievers said although NXP’s business in China is not affected by the new rules, it has advised its US national employees to halt any communications with clients in China involved in semiconductor manufacturing since the rules took effect last month.

“We don’t exactly know how to read the rules, but we have an absolute commitment to comply at all times,” Sievers said. “So we took it very literally and carefully. It doesn’t change our business, but it makes working in China a bit more complicated.”

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