US government probes South Korean company accused of selling American tools to Chinese entities

SMIC
(Image credit: SMIC)

The U.S. Commerce Department is investigating whether Ronda Korea, a South Korean company, has been selling chipmaking equipment to Chinese firms. U.S.-based Lam Research produces the equipment, which was reportedly procured by Chinese companies subject to U.S. sanctions, reports The Information. The probe somewhat mimics another DoC investigation exploring shipments of Applied Materials tools to Chinese entities via South Korea.

The U.S. DoC is specifically examining whether Ronda Korea resold components for chipmaking equipment made by Lam Research to Chinese entities. Lam Research told The Information that Ronda Korea is not an authorized supplier and is cooperating with the Commerce Department to comply with export restrictions to China. Ronda Korea has not commented on the matter, and the Commerce Department has not disclosed specific details about the investigation.

This investigation is part of a larger effort to enforce export controls and prevent sanctioned Chinese firms — particularly Huawei, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., and Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. — from obtaining advanced wafer fab tools. The U.S. DoC is also looking into other South Korean companies that might supply sanctioned Chinese companies with advanced wafer fab tools. 

Due to these tighter export restrictions, Chinese chipmakers have faced increasing difficulties in obtaining necessary components and equipment. The U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan have imposed stringent controls to block China's access to logic technologies below 14nm/16nm, DRAM production nodes beyond 18nm, and 3D NAND with more than 128 active layers. Despite these efforts, South Korean companies have emerged as alternative suppliers, helping to keep Chinese fabs operational.

Unlike the U.S., Japan, and the Netherlands, South Korea has not imposed strict Chinese export rules on wafer fab tools, which made it a key player in the semiconductor supply chain to China. Ronda Korea has been expanding its operations in China, establishing three subsidiaries in 2023.

However, the U.S. has been urging South Korea to restrict these exports since March, adding pressure on South Korean authorities and companies. The outcome of this probe could influence other South Korean companies and prevent the re-export of advanced fab tools to Huawei, SMIC, YMTC, and other entities from China. However, this situation poses a risk of retaliation from China, which could impact South Korea's significant trade relations with the country.

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. 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.

  • stonecarver
    Admin said:
    US government probes
    I have a legitimate question to Admin Administrator.

    These types of stories that are put here to comment on that fall into what ends up leading into posts that get political due to the nature of the story.

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    I myself have no issue keeping political talk off the forum but we keep getting offered the rabbit hole with stories that almost can't deflect politics.
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  • peachpuff
    stonecarver said:
    I have a legitimate question to Admin Administrator.

    These types of stories that are put here to comment on that fall into what ends up leading into posts that get political due to the nature of the story.

    How do us as members navigate between correct etiquette and not have the thread closed on a subject that seems to always get to breaking forum rules.

    I myself have no issue keeping political talk off the forum but we keep getting offered the rabbit hole with stories that almost can't deflect politics.
    The trick is to not care, if the mod deletes your comment take it as a badge of honor. Keep the mods busy until it annoys them and they reverse this dumb rule.
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  • stonecarver
    peachpuff said:
    Keep the mods busy until it annoys them and they reverse this dumb rule.
    I highly respect the mods and the staff as some have given years to keep this place still on the map.

    It's just when I see these stories that do and will lead to political talk I see the same every time post story, people get involve. thread gets locked.

    But it's Tom's staff that posts the soon to be locked thread that get out of content.
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  • peachpuff
    Keeping them busy makes them talk among themselves, the more busy/annoyed they are about certain rules the more they talk and the chances of this rule being reversed.
    If you don't poke the bear nothing will change...

    Hi mods, I'm doing my part 👋😂
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  • thisisaname
    peachpuff said:
    Keeping them busy makes them talk among themselves, the more busy/annoyed they are about certain rules the more they talk and the chances of this rule being reversed.
    If you don't poke the bear nothing will change...

    Hi mods, I'm doing my part 👋😂
    If you poke the bear you may become dinner and the bear may not even check to see if your dead first. :eek:
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  • thisisaname
    Why would they need to buy it when with their world leading research they can build it better on their own?
    Reply
  • tooltalk
    stonecarver said:
    It's just when I see these stories that do and will lead to political talk I see the same every time post story, people get involve. thread gets locked.

    But it's Tom's staff that posts the soon to be locked thread that get out of content.
    I am a bit annoyed by TH's moderator-bot.
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  • peachpuff
    thisisaname said:
    If you poke the bear you may become dinner and the bear may not even check to see if your dead first. :eek:
    This bear doesn't bite... 😅
    Reply
  • williamcll
    thisisaname said:
    Why would they need to buy it when with their world leading research they can build it better on their own?
    Aren't these all about purchases a few years ago?
    Reply