China experienced a substantial surge in the imports of chipmaking machinery in the past year, driven by increased investments by companies aiming to circumvent restrictions imposed by the United States, aimed at impeding the nation’s semiconductor industry. According to Bloomberg calculations based on official customs data, imports of machinery crucial for computer chip production saw a notable 14% rise in 2023, reaching nearly US$40 billion. This figure stands as the second-highest recorded value since 2015, despite an overall 5.5% decline in total imports for the same period. This trend underscores the significant emphasis placed by the Chinese government and the nation’s chip industry on achieving self-sufficiency.
China witnessed a notable increase in imports from the Netherlands last year
Chinese chip companies are swiftly funneling investments into the establishment of new semiconductor facilities, aiming to enhance the nation’s technological capabilities and navigate around export controls imposed by the United States and its allies. These restrictions have posed challenges for Chinese firms in obtaining the necessary machinery for producing high-performance chips, consequently impeding the progress of China’s high-tech sector—a sector perceived as a potential threat by the United States. Notably, China witnessed a notable increase in imports from the Netherlands last year, anticipating new export controls that further restrict companies like Semiconductor Manufacturing International from accessing cutting-edge machinery.
In December, imports of lithography equipment from the Netherlands skyrocketed nearly 1,000% compared to the previous year, reaching US$1.1 billion, as companies hurried to make purchases before the implementation of Dutch restrictions this month. Even before these constraints took effect, Dutch company ASML Holding preemptively canceled shipments of some of its top-tier machines to China, complying with a request from the U.S. government. These cancellations occurred weeks prior to the enforcement of export bans on high-end chipmaking equipment.