China Sees Jump in Semiconductor Equipment Imports Amid Latest US Export Controls

According to The South China Post, newly released Chinese customs data says imports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment surged in October ahead of the latest US export control actions.

The data shows China imported $4.3 billion worth of chipmaking tools in October, up nearly 80% from $2.4 billion in the same month last year. The imported equipment is used for manufacturing silicon wafers, integrated circuits, and flat panel displays.

Analysts say the jump in imports reflects an effort by Chinese semiconductor firms to stockpile critical manufacturing gear before new US export rules took effect in November. Those rules further limit what advanced semiconductor technology can be shipped to China from the US and allied countries.

Specifically targeted are advanced lithography systems used for patterning integrated circuits. Industry leader ASML Holding of the Netherlands has been barred from shipping its most advanced extreme ultraviolet lithography machines to China since 2019. The new rules tightened restrictions around export of ASML’s slightly less advanced deep ultraviolet systems as well.

So far this year, China’s semiconductor imports dropped 12.1% versus the same period in 2022, measured by unit volume. However, the decline has been slowly improving, compared to a 26.5% plunge seen in January-February. Meanwhile, total import value from January-November declined 16.5% year-on-year to $316.6 billion.

The import figures suggest a mild recovery in end demand, including for products like smartphones. Recent data showed an 11% jump in Chinese smartphone shipments last month.