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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

China’s stake in cutting-edge microchip technologies prompts questions without easy answers

Chinese state-controlled funds are being funneled into companies producing key microchip technologies, prompting questions on whether this state involvement is a matter of chance or a deliberate governmental knowledge-acquisition strategy, Emily Feng writes for the Financial Times. Beijing’s purchase of Swedish company Silex Microsystems, for one, was a highly intentional move gain Silex’s expertise in “micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), the components embedded in chips that are increasingly central to everything from mobile phones and medical devices to self-driving cars.”

So… what’s the problem? Beijing’s aim to become less reliant on imported critical components has been stated clearly in its “Made in China 2025” strategy, and its purchase of technological know-how makes sense as it looks to become a “world-class producer of computer chips.” Where the whole issue becomes murkier is when companies with highly sensitive technology are acquired through, for instance, large venture capital funds managed by government-owned entities — but are presented as being the product of purely private investors.

If it isn’t clear where the money comes from, where do regulators draw the line? The piece frames the challenge succinctly: “The layering of funds and investment vehicles in semiconductor deals demonstrates the challenge faced by regulators in screening investments to protect sensitive or dual-use technology.”

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