China's chipmaking tool purchases increase 1,050% in November: Report

ASML
Lithography machines such as this TWINSCAN NXE:3400C from ASML are a crucial element in the fabrication of today's semiconductors. (Image credit: ASML)

The Netherlands recently saw a huge jump in wafer fab equipment sales to China -- including a 1,050% increase in value this November, reports the South China Morning Post (via Yahoo! Finance). While the information can be considered 'semi-official,' it possibly points to China's continued effort to access advanced wafer fab tools to build its semiconductor sector.

In November, China brought a total of 42 lithography systems worth $816.8 million. Sixteen lithography systems came from the Netherlands; their value totaled $762.7 million, a tenfold increase from the previous year. In addition, China imported 21 systems from the Netherlands in October. Japanese companies Canon and Nikon also supplied China with lithography tools.

The main supplier of these lithography systems to China is ASML, and most of those wafer fab tools do not need an export license from the U.S. or Dutch government. This import surge is happening even as the U.S. tries to limit China's access to cutting-edge chip-making tech. Despite these efforts, it seems Chinese firms are still getting their hands on advanced equipment.

Despite its own push for wafer fab equipment and development, China's business with ASML, Canon, and Nikon shows how much China relies on foreign tech for its semiconductor production. As of 2021, less than 5% of the lithography systems in Chinese factories were made locally, the report from SCMP claims.

The U.S. recently changed its export rules, particularly the "de minimis" rule related to certain deep-ultraviolet lithography tools that contain U.S. technology. This change has made it tougher for ASML to ship its Twinscan NXT:1980Di systems to some of China's advanced chipmakers. But, according to ASML's CEO, Peter Wennink, most Chinese customers are not affected by these changes because they mostly focus on mature process technologies, such as 28nm and older.

Analysts have different takes on why China's imports spiked. Some think it might be because of quick shipments made before the latest U.S. export rules came into effect. Meanwhile, SMIC, the biggest chipmaker in China, is upping its 2023 CapEx budget to $7.5 billion despite a drop in revenue. 

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • DonQuixoteIII
    Percentages are an accountant''s way of shaping the truth. What % is it going from 0$ to 1$? A whole lot more than a measly ten times.... (1000%)
    Reply
  • phead128
    DonQuixoteIII said:
    Percentages are an accountant''s way of shaping the truth. What % is it going from 0$ to 1$? A whole lot more than a measly ten times.... (1000%)
    China was a top 3 ASML customer before the sanctions, so 1000% of a top 3 customer is.... a metric $h!ton of orders. It will satisfy China's mega growth plans for many years.
    Reply
  • thisisaname
    Buying them before they think they may get stopped from getting any?
    Reply
  • thisisaname
    DonQuixoteIII said:
    Percentages are an accountant''s way of shaping the truth. What % is it going from 0$ to 1$? A whole lot more than a measly ten times.... (1000%)
    Yes without a base value percentages can be misused to inflate increases (or decreases)
    Reply