Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, the world’s top two memory chip manufacturers, have received an indefinite waiver allowing them to continue supplying semiconductor equipment to their factories in China. This exemption is expected to facilitate technological advancements for the companies and alleviate pressure on the global chip supply chain.
Both South Korean conglomerates have invested in their chip production facilities in China. This exemption from US rules governing chip technology exports to China gives them greater flexibility to operate their factories and expand their influence in the semiconductor industry.
The indefinite waiver granted to Samsung and SK Hynix resolves a precarious situation due to the escalating trade tensions between the US and China. These tensions had led to the imposition of license requirements for companies seeking to export US chip equipment to China, inadvertently impacting the operations of these South Korean chip giants.
The US Commerce Department had previously issued licenses in 2022, effectively suspending export controls on semiconductors and chip manufacturing equipment for China.
These export controls were put in place as part of the US government’s strategy to limit China’s access to advanced chips that could potentially be utilized for military applications.
The initial one-year licenses, which were granted to Samsung and SK Hynix, allowed them to continue their operations within China. However, the approaching expiration of these licenses created apprehension within South Korea’s semiconductor industry.
The waiver is a relief, allowing both companies to continue supplying US chip equipment to their Chinese facilities without needing separate US approvals.
In light of these controls and the expiration of their one-year reprieve, Samsung and SK Hynix have adopted a cautious stance, suspending any new investments in their Chinese facilities. Their restraint comes from the need to monitor Washington’s next steps in this ongoing trade dynamic.
As the latest decision by the US government, Samsung and SK Hynix are slated to be added to the US Department of Commerce’s “validated end user (VEU)” list. This inclusion implies that both companies will be permitted to continue supplying specific US chip manufacturing equipment to their Chinese production facilities without additional approvals or permissions.
In China, Samsung currently operates a NAND flash memory chip plant in Xian and a chip packaging facility in Suzhou. Meanwhile, SK Hynix manages a DRAM chip plant in Wuxi, a NAND plant in Dalian, and a packaging factory in Chongqing.
The two companies collectively held nearly 70% of the global DRAM market and 50% of the NAND flash market, underscoring their dominant positions in the memory chip industry.
Both Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix produce a major portion of their respective chip types in China. Samsung’s Xian plant in China manufactures approximately 40% of its NAND flash chips. In comparison, SK Hynix relies on its Wuxi facility for about 40% of its DRAM chips and its Dalian plant for 20% of its NAND flash chips.
Samsung said, “Through close coordination with relevant governments, uncertainties related to the operation of our semiconductor manufacturing lines in China have been significantly removed.”
“We welcome the US government’s decision to extend a waiver with regard to the export control regulations. We believe the decision will contribute to the stabilization of the global semiconductor supply chain,” SK Hynix expressed in a released statement.
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