China’s Semiconductor Breakthrough: New Challenges For United States In Smartphone Market – Analysis


China has been a long-time and major participant in the semiconductor business, with large corporations like Alibaba, Baidu, and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC). China has accomplished a semiconductor achievement in 2023 by producing a chip that can enable 5G technology, despite the U.S. sanctions that have aimed to keep the Chinese tech giant Huawei from acquiring vital components and software. Investment in semiconductors has helped China gain worldwide leadership in subjects including 5G, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce.

China’s newest technology is built on a 7-nanometer process, which is the same as the latest processors from Apple and Samsung. The semiconductor development might help Huawei restore its market dominance, which is the world’s biggest smartphone market and one of the most significant for Apple. Huawei was once the leading smartphone producer in China and internationally, but it experienced a steep decrease once the U.S. sanctions took effect.

Apple, on the other hand, has had great sales in China. However, Huawei still confronts several hurdles in its drive to become a worldwide leader in the semiconductor sector. For one reason, SMIC is still far behind TSMC, the world’s most sophisticated chipmaker, which can create 5-nanometer devices and is working on 3-nanometer processors. SMIC also depends on U.S.-made equipment and software for its manufacturing, which might be vulnerable to future limitations by the US government. Additionally, Huawei might not have a sufficient supply of other parts, such as memory chips and display panels, that are also subject to U.S. restrictions.

The 2018 US sanctions underlined China’s technical dependency on the US and Western allies. The United States has implemented a set of sanctions, intended to limit Huawei’s ability to engage with American technology and markets. These actions were justified on the grounds of national security and human rights apprehensions.

In May 2019, the United States Department of Commerce included Huawei and its affiliated entities on the Entity List, a regulatory framework that restricted American firms from engaging in the export or transfer of products, software, or technology to Huawei without obtaining a license. In August 2020, the United States Commerce Department implemented a regulation mandating foreign chip manufacturers that use US equipment or software to get a license before aging chip sales to Huawei or its affiliated entities.

In December 2020, the United States Department of State implemented visa restrictions on Huawei workers and their respective family members, citing their alleged involvement in the facilitation of human rights violations inside China. In January 2023, the United States Department of Commerce implemented a policy to cease the issuance of export permits, essentially severing access to advanced semiconductors and other essential components.

The imposition of sanctions had a significant impact on Huawei’s commercial operations and worldwide competitive position, particularly within the smartphone and 5G industries. In 2021, Huawei had a notable decrease in sales, amounting to a dip of 29% when compared to the previous year, 2020. Furthermore, the company’s market share witnessed a substantial reduction both inside China and on a worldwide scale.

Huawei has encountered difficulties in the development of its own operating system and chip manufacturing skills, along with the task of ensuring the acquisition of substitute suppliers and partners. Therefore, it is still unclear how China’s anticipated semiconductor advancement will affect Huawei and the global smartphone market because it raises the question of whether this development will significantly change the landscape or if it will merely be a passing success that rivals will surpass in due course.

Huawei has implemented a range of strategies in response to the economic restrictions imposed by the United States. The company proactively accumulated chips and other components following those sanctions, intending to secure a sufficient supply for its current products and ongoing developments. Additionally, the company initiated a strategy to broaden its supply chain, aiming to mitigate its reliance on technology from the United States and explore new avenues for procuring components and software.

Subsequently, Huawei embarked on the establishment of its indigenous chip manufacturing capabilities in China, using the assistance of SMIC and other domestic chipmakers to surmount the limitations imposed by international chip suppliers. Moreover, the company introduced a range of smartphones equipped with either 4G or 5G functionalities, using its own Kirin CPUs or alternative chips manufactured in China. This strategic move was undertaken to effectively contend with competitors both inside the local market and on a worldwide scale. Huawei further created an operating system known as HarmonyOS to replace Google’s Android system on handsets. However, the US imposed restrictions that would limit China’s access to Western semiconductor technology and impede its development of sophisticated microchips.

The China Semiconductor Sector Association (CSIA), on the other hand, expressed its opposition to the US-led coalition and claimed that the sanctions harmed both the domestic and international semiconductor sectors. As a result of this progress, Chinese companies specializing in sophisticated chip manufacturing, such as SMIC and Yangtze Memory Technologies, have been trying to achieve self-sufficiency in chip production without relying on Western assistance.

Despite reports indicating that China’s microchip technology is not as advanced as that of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung Electronics, which are capable of producing 3nm and 4nm chips, nevertheless, this significant advancement will empower China to narrow the technical disparity that the United States is resolute in maintaining, therefore establishing China as a global frontrunner in the realm of chip manufacturing.

Within certain technological domains, such as the production of cost-effective mobile devices and the establishment of 5G network infrastructure, the absence of a feasible American substitute for Chinese counterparts is evident. China serves as the primary partner for 120 nations, which encompass major markets in Asia, the European Union, the Middle East, and South America.

The competition between the United States and China in the field of semiconductor technology is leading to the adoption of a zero-sum perspective. Moreover, the independent technology ecosystems of microchips would give rise to additional inherent hazards for both the United States and China within a globally interconnected supply chain. Additionally, the United States and China, the two most significant economies in the world are currently exchanging reciprocal actions within the semiconductor industry. The United States first implemented restrictions on the export of chips, semiconductor equipment, and software to Chinese technological companies. In response, China implemented a prohibition on the import of lower-quality chips originating from the United States. Currently, China is trying to establish a semiconductor ecosystem. In essence, these measures are eroding the United States’ position of technical dominance and diminishing its geopolitical influence.

In conclusion, the future of the Chinese economy and the continuing US-China chip war have ramifications. In light of the prevailing competitiveness within the semiconductor business, China would not only curtail its expenditure on semiconductor imports but also accelerate the advancement of its local sectors, including automotive and electronics.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

One thought on “China’s Semiconductor Breakthrough: New Challenges For United States In Smartphone Market – Analysis

  • September 24, 2023 at 5:13 am

    The conclusion is on the mark! The spread of science and technology has been going on since countries started to trade with each other and imitation and improvement are all part of human progress down the ages. Huawei, Apple, Samsung, Toshiba, BMW, AirBus, Boeing, ete are here today, gone tomorrow but technology transfer will be here forever.


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