Inside Tsinghua Unigroup, a key player in China’s chip strategy

Inside Tsinghua Unigroup, a key player in China’s chip strategy

Tech war with US prompting Beijing to cut reliance on foreign suppliers

SHANGHAI — Leading Chinese high-tech company Tsinghua Unigroup is spearheading China’s push to develop a homegrown semiconductor sector in a do-or-die resistance against U.S. pressure in the global chip market.

The China International Semiconductor Expo (IC China 2020) held in Shanghai from Oct. 14 to 16 had many exhibition booths with signs reading “domestically produced” or “made in China.”

In October, the U.S. imposed restrictions on exports to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC), China’s biggest semiconductor foundry, following those slapped on Huawei Technologies, making it more likely that China will be still further isolated and cut off from international chip supply chains.

A bumpy road lies ahead. The “Made in China 2025” national strategic plan, announced by the government in 2015, envisioned raising China’s self-sufficiency in chip production to 40% in 2020 and 70% in 2025. But the rate stood low at 15.7% in 2019 as a result of the U.S.-China tech war.

American research company IC Insights said in a report in May that the rate may rise only to 20.7% in 2024. Although the government’s goal does not stand a chance, China is more resolved than ever to develop its homegrown chip sector.

At the IC China expo held under these circumstances, an overwhelmingly large booth was occupied by Tsinghua Unigroup, a chipmaker affiliated with Tsinghua University, a top-notch Chinese engineering university and alma mater of President Xi Jinping.

Products on display in the booth included 128-layer, three-dimensional flash memory chips, dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips, chips for 5G mobile phones, and RFID chips in credit cards and other products.