US Faces Pushback on More China Chip Curbs as Election Nears

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(Bloomberg) — US attempts to press the Netherlands and Japan into further curbing Chinese access to semiconductor technology suffered a setback this week, with both nations seeking time for existing limits to take hold — and to see who triumphs in the US presidential election.

The US is urging allies to tighten maintenance for banned gear in China, an effort that includes pushing the Dutch government to stop ASML Holding NV from servicing and repairing restricted chipmaking equipment procured by Chinese companies before the current sales ban. US officials also want Japanese firms to limit exports of some high-end chemicals for chip production.

But both nations are resisting those additional steps, wanting more time to evaluate the impact of export bans on high-end chip-making equipment, according to people familiar with the matter. Another factor is uncertainty about the outcome of the US election in November, according to the people, who described the private discussions on condition of anonymity.

ASML and the Dutch trade ministry declined to comment. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said it was in touch with international export control authorities, but declined to comment on “diplomatic exchanges.” The US Commerce Department didn’t immediately comment.

The impasse signals that uncertainty about President Joe Biden’s chances in November is clouding his attempts to further stall China’s technological rise. Republican nominee Donald Trump led Biden in key swing states, 47% to 43%, according to the latest Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll released in late March.

While Trump has floated imposing a tariff of more than 60% on Chinese goods if he’s elected, he has yet to fully lay out how he would handle the US-China tech trade war.

During his presidency, Trump sanctioned Huawei Technologies Co. and eventually cut off the Chinese company’s access to leading global chipmakers including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. His administration also blocked ASML from selling extreme ultraviolet lithography machines, required for making cutting-edge chips, to China.

Senior US officials including Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez met their Dutch counterparts in the Netherlands on Monday to raise the issue of preventing ASML from servicing their restricted machines in China, according to some of the people. Dutch officials told the American delegation that it was too early to push for new measures, and it would be better to wait and see the results of the recently imposed restrictions. 

As of this year, ASML is banned from selling its three top-of-the line deep ultraviolet lithography machines to Chinese firms. US officials last year persuaded The Hague to cancel some of the Dutch supplier’s shipments to China before the restrictions were put in place. 

The US delegation subsequently visited Berlin to discuss similar curbs with German counterparts, people familiar with the matter said. American officials want German optical component maker Carl Zeiss AG, a critical supplier to ASML, to pull back from shipping key parts to China, Bloomberg News has reported. 

Officials in the German chancellery neither signaled support for nor rejected the US proposal outright, pointing to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s upcoming trip to China, according to the people. Scholz is heading to China over the weekend with a business delegation that includes Zeiss Chief Executive Officer Karl Lamprecht. He is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, with the semiconductors curbs set to feature high on the agenda.

A spokeswoman for Zeiss said the company was in contact with ASML and officials, but declined to comment further.

US officials also stopped in Brussels this week to discuss a number of issues including chips and sanctions on Russia, people familiar with the situation said. 

Meanwhile, Japanese officials have not agreed to US calls to limit exports of at least some chip-making chemicals for China, some of the people said. It’s not clear whether Biden administration officials broached this issue during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Washington earlier this week. 

–With assistance from Takashi Mochizuki, Jillian Deutsch, Debby Wu and Alberto Nardelli.

(Updates with visit to Brussels in second to last paragraph)

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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Published: 13 Apr 2024, 02:38 AM IST

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