Xi's vision for chip self-reliance runs into reality

The recent purge of top executives points to the tension between the Chinese leader’s vision of government-led tech self-reliance and the very nature of semiconductors.

A Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company factory in Nanjing, in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. PHOTO: AFP
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Wearing a laboratory coat, China's top leader, President Xi Jinping, inspected a subsidiary of Yangtze Memory Technologies Co, a national semiconductor company based in Wuhan, China. It was April 2018, shortly after the US government had barred the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE from doing business with US suppliers. The ban was a Sputnik moment for China's tech industry and its leaders.

Despite the country's success in building smartphones, e-commerce platforms and high-speed railways, they realised that tech boom had been built largely on top of Western technologies, especially chips that power nearly everything. They had to change that - and fast.

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