2016年2月5日 星期五

Concern Grows in U.S. Over China’s Drive to Make Chips

Concern Grows in U.S. Over China’s Drive to Make Chips
By PAUL MOZUR and JANE PERLEZ February 5, 2016

HONG KONG — China is spending billions of dollars on a major push to make its own microchips, an effort that could bolster its military capabilities as well as its homegrown technology industry.


Those ambitions are starting to get noticed in Washington.


Worries over China’s chip ambitions were the main reason that United States officials blocked the proposed purchase for as much as $2.9 billion of a controlling stake in a unit of the Dutch electronics company Philips by Chinese investors, according to one expert and a second person involved with the deal discussions.


The Yomiuri Shimbun, via Associated Press Images


The rare blockage underscores growing concern in Washington about Chinese efforts to acquire the know-how to make the semiconductors that work as the brains of all kinds of sophisticated electronics, including military applications such as missile systems.


In the case of the Philips deal, the company said late last month that it would terminate a March 2015 agreement to sell a majority stake in its auto and light-emitting diode components business known as Lumileds to a group that included the Chinese investors GO Scale Capital and GSR Ventures. It cited concerns raised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews whether foreign investments in the country present a national security risk.

關於飛利浦這筆交易,該公司上月底稱,將終止2015年3月的一份協議。按照協議,飛利浦旗下從事汽車和發光二極管原件業務的公司Lumileds的多數股權,會出售給由中國投資者GO Scale Capital和金沙江創業投資基金(GSR Ventures)組成的一個財團。該公司稱終止協議的原因是美國海外投資委員會(Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,簡稱Cfius)提出了擔憂。這個委員會負責審查外國在美國的投資是否會給國家安全帶來風險。

Philips said that despite efforts to alleviate concerns, the committee — known as Cfius — did not approve the transaction.


“There is a belief in the Cfius community that China has become innately hostile and that these aren’t just business deals anymore,” said James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research firm, who speaks to people connected with the committee’s process.

「Cfius的圈內人認為,中國天生就是敵對的,這些都不再僅僅是商業交易了,」國際戰略研究中心(Center for Strategic and International Studies)高級研究員詹姆斯·劉易斯(James Lewis)說。他與參與了該委員會決策程序的人員有過交流。

Philips did not respond to requests for comment. GSR Ventures, which sponsors GO Scale Capital, declined to comment.

飛利浦沒有答覆記者的置評請求。為GO Scale Capital提供支持的金沙江創投拒絕發表評論。

Cfius, an interagency body that includes representatives from the Treasury and Justice Departments, declined to comment and does not make its findings public.


Cfius reviews have been a growing problem for outbound Chinese deals. According to the most recent data available, in 2012 and 2013 Chinese investment accounted for more committee reviews than money coming from any other country. A 2008 Chinese effort to invest in the network equipment company 3Com was withdrawn while the committee was reviewing it.


Recently, the committee found acceptable a number of major Chinese deals, including a takeover of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International and Lenovo’s takeover of IBM’s low-end server unit. In 2012, President Obama ordered a Chinese company to stop building wind farms near an American military installation in Oregon after a negative Cfius review.

最近,Cfius認為很多涉及中國的大筆交易都是可以接受的,包括雙匯國際收購史密斯菲爾德食品公司(Smithfield Foods)和聯想收購IBM的低端服務器部門。2012年,在Cfius進行審查並作出負面裁定後,奧巴馬總統責令一家中國公司,停止在美國位於俄勒岡州的一處軍事設施附近修建風力發電廠。

At the center of the committee’s concerns on the Philips deal, according to Mr. Lewis, was a little known but increasingly important advanced semiconductor material called gallium nitride. Though not a household name like silicon, gallium nitride, often referred to by its abbreviation GaN, could be used to construct a new generation of powerful and versatile microchips.


It has been used for decades in the low-energy light sources known as light-emitting diodes, and it features in technology as mundane as Blu-ray disc players. But its resistance to heat and radiation give it a number of military and space applications. Gallium nitride chips are being used in radar for anti-ballistic missiles and in an Air Force radar system, called Space Fence, that is used to track space debris.

在被稱作發光二極管的節能光源中,氮化鎵已經使用了數十年。在一些平凡的科技產品,如藍光碟片播放器里,氮化鎵也有應用。但耐熱和耐輻射的特性,讓它在軍事和太空領域應用廣泛。如今,反彈道導彈雷達和美國空軍用來追蹤空間碎片的雷達系統「太空籬笆」(Space Fence)也使用了氮化鎵芯片。

“Gallium nitride makes better-performing semiconductors that were key in upgrading Patriot radar systems,” said Mr. Lewis. “It’s classic dual use, sensitive in that it could be used in other advanced weapons sensors and jamming systems.”


Advancing its chip industry has been a major political initiative for Beijing. In recent years, analysts said, Chinese corporate espionage and hacking efforts have been aimed at stealing chip technology, while Chinese firms have used government funds to buy foreign companies and technology and attract engineers.


Last year, different subsidiaries of the state-controlled Tsinghua Holdings made a number of bids for American companies, including an unsuccessful $23 billion offer for the American memory chip maker Micron Technology and a successful $3.78 billion purchase of a 15 percent stake in the hard-drive maker Western Digital.

去年,國有公司清華控股的不同子公司多次發出收購美國公司的要約,包括出價230億美元收購美國存儲芯片生產商美光科技(Micron Technology)未果,以及成功地用37.8億美元收購硬盤生產商西部數據(Western Digital) 15%的股份。

Last year’s spree of deal activity, and lack of American regulatory response, spurred a Sanford Bernstein analyst, Mark Newman, to say in a November report that the United States “runs the risk of being asleep at the wheel.” He cited efforts by South Korea and Taiwan to prevent China from acquiring some technology assets.

去年併購交易活躍,美國監管機構也少有反應。這促使桑福德·伯恩斯坦公司(Sanford Bernstein)分析師馬克·紐曼(Mark Newman)在11月的一份報告中稱,美國「面臨著開車時睡着的風險」。他提到了韓國和台灣阻止中國收購某些科技資產的行動。

The Lumileds block is being interpreted by the chip industry as the United States “waking up a bit to the threat,” Mr. Newman said in an email.


Gallium nitride is particularly sensitive. One military industry magazine called the material the biggest thing since silicon, which is now commonly used to make the transistors in microchips. Itcited Raytheon’s use of the material to make smaller, low-powered radar for American missile systems.


“Many say it’s the most important semiconductor material since silicon,” said Colin Humphreys, a British physicist at Cambridge University.

「很多人說它是繼硅之後最重要的半導體材料,」劍橋大學的英國物理學家科林·漢弗萊斯(Colin Humphreys)說。

He said that while it was not clear what the United States government was worried about, research by LED companies into technology linking gallium nitride and silicon could have broader implications for creating advanced microchips that could be used in a wide array of electronics.


The would-be investor in Lumileds, GSR Ventures, also holds a stake in Lattice Power, a Chinese company that has been vocal about its efforts to develop technology related to gallium nitride and silicon.

希望投資Lumileds的金沙江創業投資基金,也是晶能光電(Lattice Power)的股東。後者是一家中國公司,對於研發涉及氮化鎵和硅的技術一直直言不諱。

In a November 2015 statement about a recent investigation into Chinese industrial espionage, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice also expressed worries about China aiming at the material. Calling the mass production of gallium nitride a “key development project” for China, the ministry said it was concerned about the theft of trade secrets from Taiwanese companies working on the material and Chinese-led recruitment of engineers knowledgeable about it.



Paul Mozur自香港、Jane Perlez自北京報道。



© 2016 The New York Times Company.
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