April 25, 2018 / 9:33 AM / 4 months ago

China invites overseas investors to propel local chip ambitions

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is looking for billions of dollars in funds to propel its domestic ambitions in chips to cut a heavy reliance on imports, and has invited overseas investors to help it get there.

FILE PHOTO: A researcher plants a semiconductor on an interface board which is placed under a microscope during a research work to design and develop a semiconductor product at Tsinghua Unigroup research centre in Beijing, China February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

The country’s industry ministry said on Wednesday that it welcomed foreign enterprises to invest in its top state-backed semiconductor fund, even as tensions simmer over tech transfers between China and the United States.

China is looking to accelerate plans to develop its semiconductor market amid a fierce trade stand-off with the United States and a recent ban on U.S. sales, including of American chips, to ZTE Corp.

China’s National Integrated Circuit Investment Fund is now putting together a second fund to support the sector, a Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) official said.

“We welcome foreign enterprises to participate,” MIIT spokesman Chen Yin said at a press conference in Beijing.

The fund, which raised about $22 billion previously, has been a target for U.S. politicians concerned that Chinese firms, flush with state money, could challenge U.S. chip giants like Qualcomm Corp for whom China is a key market.

The United States Trade Representative referenced China’s semiconductor roadmap, which includes national funding, in a trade report that authorized U.S. President Donald Trump to levy up to $100 billion in tariffs against the country.

Jack Ma, the founder of tech giant Alibaba, said in Japan on Wednesday that China needed to control its “core technology” like chips to avoid over-reliance on U.S. imports.

Alibaba last week said it had bought Chinese microchip maker Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems, though Ma said the timing of the deal was not linked to U.S.-China trade tensions.

“We believe the internet of things is the future ... most things that have electricity will have chips inside. So we need cheaper chips, effective chips, inclusive chips that can be everywhere,” Ma said during a live-streamed event at Tokyo’s Waseda University.

China’s state-backed semiconductor fund, commonly referred to as the “Big Fund”, has previously backed major local projects including a $24 billion Tsinghua Unigroup memory chip plant that is under construction in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Beijing says its supportive investment policies are designed to reduce China’s reliance on foreign semiconductors, which are one of the country’s top imported products by value.

That dependence was highlighted this month after the United States banned American firms from selling components, including semiconductors, to ZTE. Analysts say the ban could be potentially fatal for ZTE’s smartphone business.

Chinese firms have also had a number of overseas deals to buy foreign chip companies blocked by U.S. regulators in recent years, including a bid by Tsinghua Unigroup to acquire U.S. chip group Micron Technology Inc.

($1 = 6.3219 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Himani Sarkar

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