Image of Photo of Dr Ming-chin Monique Chu

China's pursuit of semiconductor independence: opportunities and constraints

The China Centre lecture on Wednesday 24 November 2021 was delivered by Dr Ming-chin Monique Chu, Lecturer in Chinese Politics in the Department of Economic, Social and Political Sciences, University of Southampton.

Dr Chu’s lecture addressed a key issue in national development and international relations. Her lecture analysed the role of semi-conductors as the ‘brains of electronic systems’ and their significance for China’s national development. The industry’s value chain includes IC (Integrated Circuit) design, semi-conductor machines and semi-conductor manufacture, and the industry is closely connected with software. The sector is highly R&D intensive and has achieved tremendous technical progress. Production of the most advanced technologies is controlled by a small number of firms.

Semi-conductors occupy a vital place in the global business system and play a key role in national security, including a central role in military technologies. Semi-conductors form a key part of the complex relationship between the US and China. Despite great efforts to catch up, China remains heavily reliant upon semi-conductors and equipment supplied by firms in the USA, East Asia and the EU. However, the Chinese market is extremely important for international semi-conductor companies.

Issues raised in the Q&A session included: technological challenges in the production of ultra-violet semi-conductor equipment; the role of Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese companies in the Chinese semi-conductor market; the US government’s request for East Asian semi-conductor companies to hand over data; the contribution of semi-conductors to combatting climate change; the role of semi-conductors in China’s military technologies, including hypersonic missiles; and the central role of semi-conductors as an ‘enabling technology’ across the entire structure of the modern business system.

Dr Ming-chin Monique Chu is lecturer in Chinese politics at the University of Southampton. Her research sits within the areas of international political economy and security of international relations. Her specific research interests include the impact of globalization on security with reference to semiconductors, and the concept and practice of sovereignty.

Dr Chu has undertaken research on security-globalization nexus with reference to semiconductors since her PhD studies at Cambridge, which has laid a solid foundation for her continuous research interest in the linkages between technologies, security and great power competition.

In 2016, the U.S. based Semiconductor Industry Association cited her thesis-turned research monograph, entitled The East Asian Computer Chip War, as the authoritative work on the topic in its annual report. Her other scholarly research has been published in The China Quarterly and China Perspectives.

Aside from her academic outputs, Dr Chu has given talks about semiconductors at think tanks in England, Europe, the U. S. and India. In March 2018, she was invited to give oral evidence on China’s capabilities in the field of emerging technologies in front of the House of Lords International Relations Committee. She has been interviewed by the BBC World News, BBC World Service, Fuji Television Network, Radio France International, Deutsche Welle, and South China Morning Post on issues pertaining to semiconductors, Chinese politics, Chinese foreign policy and Cross-Strait relations.

Dr Chu obtained MPhil and PhD degrees in international relations from the University of Cambridge.