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SMIC founder says 'optimistic' China can catch up with U.S. in semiconductors

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The founder of China’s largest chipmaker SMIC said on Tuesday he was “optimistic” China could catch up with the United States in the next generation of semiconductors but that U.S. efforts to contain its technology sector could not be taken “lightly”.

Richard Chang, also the former CEO of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), told a livestream forum that persistent research and development as well as investment in new raw materials would enable China to compete, according to an official transcript on Wednesday.

The comments come as Washington and Beijing continue to spar over Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], which has brought new urgency to China’s calls to improve its domestic chip industry.

“I am optimistic and believe we can catch up,” Chang said in a rare appearance at the forum, organized by China Securities.

He said that while China’s talent base was a “weakness” in the short-term, the country had made “great progress” in manufacturing raw materials and remained a leader in next generation super-fast 5G technology.

“If China maintains its leadership in 5G technology, it can remain far ahead in wireless connectivity, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, because China already is strong in high-tech applications,” Chang said.

The United States and China have been fighting over the alleged national risk posed by the products of Chinese tech giant Huawei for over a year, and relations between the world’s two largest economies has deteriorated since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Chang said that during his time at SMIC in the early 2000’s, the U.S. Department of Commerce had been generally supportive of Chinese tech companies, but that now it sees them as its “biggest obstacle.”

The U.S. government has cited “national security” as grounds for its restrictions on Huawei. The firm has denied holding any ties to the Chinese government.

Chang founded SMIC with funding from China’s government in 2000 as a domestic Chinese rival to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation. He resigned in 2009.

(This story has been refiled to fix phrasing in paragraphs 8,9)

Reporting by Josh Horwitz and the Shanghai newsroom; editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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