Chinese Universities Join the Push for Semiconductor Dominance

China’s mainland universities are ramping up programs to support the Chinese government’s ambitions to dominate the global semiconductor market, the South China Morning Post reported this week.

“The increase in… academic programmes shows how China is doubling down on efforts to build up its semiconductor industry, which has been hampered by Beijing’s tech and trade war with Washington,” the article notes. The Made in China 2025 plan calls for eight percent of Chinese R&D expenditures to be directed to the semiconductor market, but a lack of skilled engineers “continues to be a drag on China’s attempts to catch up with the West.”

The universities’ engagement demonstrates the Chinese Communist Party’s whole-of-nation approach to developing the country’s indigenous chip-making capabilities.

Through massive subsidy campaigns, the Chinese government has stood up the country’s chip makers. These state-owned companies acquire and share sensitive dual-use technologies with the government and military. This year James Mulvenon—a rumored candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)—issued a report that identified ties between Yangtze Memory Technologies Company (YMTC) and the Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

It’s not just YMTC. Changxin Memory Technologies is equally propped up and potentially equally connected to the PLA,” Emily de La Bruyère, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said during a roundtable forum hosted by CTT this month.

This month, Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, opined in Forbes that “the end use for CXMT memory products is entirely for civilian applications.”

While the chip-maker’s products may be intended for civilian end use, Mr. Coughlin’s statement ignores mounting evidence that ties CXMT to the PLA and the fact there is no clear delineation between China’s private sector, government and military.

Last November, Dr. Roslyn Layton and former Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC9) argued that the BIS should add CXMT and YMTC, in addition to SMIC, to the Entity List:

“It won’t be enough for the U.S. to rely on our current approach; [policymakers] should immediately add the offenders we know to the Entity List and develop a complete approach to stop backdoor sales in the long run.”

De La Bruyère agrees. “[Washington] ought to adopt a clear prioritization framework to target the companies that matter most,” she told CTT this month. Otherwise, “we are cutting off hydra heads, not getting to the body of the problem.”