TAIPEI — Chinese chipmakers are likely to hire more Taiwanese semiconductor executives as the administration of incoming U.S. President Donald Trump tightens restrictions on China’s acquisitions of U.S. chip companies, according to a veteran analyst in Asia.
China’s Tsinghua Unigroup, which in recent years has joined other Chinese investors to pursue acquisitions of domestic and overseas chipmakers, this month hired Shih-wei Sun, a former CEO of Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. as an executive vice president for Tsinghua’s global operations.
This latest news comes after several Taiwan chip veterans recently joined Chinese companies. They include former Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) Executive Vice President of R&D Shang-Yi Chiang, who last month joined Shanghai’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) as an independent non-executive director. Former Inotera Memories Senior Deputy General Manager Liu Dawei has joined Hefei Chang Xin, and ex-Micron Memory Taiwan President Chen Cheng-Kun has taken a position at DRAM maker Fujian Jin Hua Integrated Circuit (JHICC).
“China will find it very tough to buy U.S. high-tech companies and difficult to leverage Chinese joint ventures or wholly-owned enterprises to access key U.S. intellectual property,” Andrew Lu wrote in a Jan. 10 report for Smartkarma. “We thus expect more senior Taiwan veterans to join China’s semiconductor industry as a second wave of talent moves to China.”
It’s likely that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will strengthen intellectual property protection and national security work in the next four years during the presidency of Donald Trump, Lu said.
The Smartkarma report said that Chinese chipmakers may be offering as much as three times the compensation provided by companies in Taiwan to attract the executives to the smaller competitors in China.
Despite the aggressive hiring efforts in China, TSMC, Samsung and SK Hynix will continue to dominate global foundry and memory industries with a more-than three-year lead in process technologies, yield rates and R&D spending, Lu said in the report. It will be extremely tough for SMIC and other Chinese chipmakers to catch up in the short term, he said.
Nevertheless, the recruitment of Taiwan’s senior semiconductor veterans will help China’s chip industry accelerate their R&D upgrading, process technology and yield improvements over the long term, according to Lu. Taiwan’s semiconductor industry will lose some intellectual property and operational secrets to China, he added. Such an outcome would be negative for Taiwan and global tier-two foundry and memory vendors because of potential market share losses and pricing pressure, Lu said.
Taiwan accounts for about a quarter of the world’s chip production. China aims to build up its domestic semiconductor industry as it still imports most of the chips it uses to assemble products such as the iPhone for Apple.