China’s largest chip manufacturer’s stock sank after the US revealed it could be its next trade ban target.
Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) said it was “in complete shock and perplexity” after the Pentagon revealed it had proposed the firm be added to a government blacklist.
This would restrict suppliers from providing it with American-based tech without special permission.
Beijing said it was “firmly opposed”.
A foreign ministry spokesman accused Washington of “blatant bullying” and using supposed national security concerns to break international trade rules .
The move could make SMIC the next focus of a trade clash that has already threatened Chinese tech firm Huawei’s survival and forced Bytedance to negotiate the sell-off of video-sharing app TikTok’s American operations.
SMIC has a less advanced production line than some of its rivals – it cannot make transistors as small as they can, limiting its ability to produce some of the cutting-edge chips featured in the latest smartphones.
Even so, the firm is an important semiconductors provider to Chinese companies, including Huawei, while also serving international clients including Qualcomm.
Analysts have said a trade ban could threaten SMIC’s existence, and in turn set back Beijing’s efforts to spur on the country’s semiconductor industry as part of its Made in China 2025 strategy.
“SMIC would be unable to update the software of any of its US machines or have personnel from suppliers helping it to get them working,” Richard Windsor, founder of research firm Radio Free Mobile, told the BBC.
“It would also be unable to buy any more equipment or any upgrades for new technologies. If this were to persist for the long term, it would represent an existential threat that could see the company close its doors.”
This in turn could compromise China’s wider technology and artificial intelligence ambitions.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gogh said on Saturday that adding the Shanghai-based firm to the Department of Commerce’s Entity List would “ensure that all exports to SMIC would undergo a more comprehensive review”.
She did not say what had motivated its intervention, but Reuters reported that defence chiefs are concerned the company has links to the Chinese military.