Japan and the United States have agreed to close cooperation to advance 2nm semiconductor process development and mass production. A report published by the Nikkei financial newspaper says that Japan’s Koichi Hagiuda, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, arrived in the United States on Monday for talks regarding this collaborative effort.
The idea of the two governments is to build a state-of-the-art semiconductor supply chain that is very secure against leaks to China and leverage the respective technological strengths of the two nations involved.
As a Japanese publication, the Nikkei was much more detailed on what Japan had to offer to the partnership. It suggests Japan has strengths in important semiconductor technologies such as silicon wafer manufacture, photosensitive agents manufacture, and abrasives for semiconductor surface preparation and building some key semiconductor manufacturing equipment. Some Japanese organizations which may be involved in the collaboration include Tokyo Electron, Canon, and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
It isn’t clear what technologies and commercial entities will be involved on the US side, but it looks likely to be IBM and Intel.
There are a couple of key reasons for the new Japan-US technology pact. The first is technology leaks to China. The Taiwanese government has pushed hard against Chinese industrial espionage. However, quashing tech secret leaks from Taiwan to China looks like a high-stakes game of whack-a-mole, which is hard to maintain. Japan and the US might also suffer from similar espionage attempts. Still, Taiwan’s proximity to China, and the fact that a segment of the population identifies as Chinese or part-Chinese, doesn’t help with security. There is also the question of geopolitical stability, with the Chinese communist party regularly saber-rattling and making statements about using military force to absorb democratic Taiwan.
Another reason for the Japan-US pact is that Taiwan’s TSMC won’t build a cutting-edge foundry off the island. It wants to keep the crown jewels production technology on its home turf. TSMC’s much-welcomed foundry plans in the US and Japan are expected to be limited to 10-20nm chip production. Meanwhile, TSMC expects to deliver Made-in-Taiwan 2nm products to its customers in 2026.
Japan’s participation in the global semiconductor market has shrunk alarmingly since 1990, when it supplied about half of the market with all manner of chips. In 2022 its market share will be nearer to 10%.