Shenzhen recruits Japanese semiconductor heavyweight as China moves to challenge US and Korean dominance in memory chips

A newly minted government-owned chip startup in Shenzhen has recruited a Japanese semiconductor industry heavyweight in the latest sign of China’s ambition to capture a bigger share of the global DRAM market dominated by North American and South American players. koreans.

Shenzhen SwaySure Technology, incorporated in March 2022 as part of the southern Chinese city’s plan to become a semiconductor hub, last week named 74-year-old Yukio Sakamoto, former executive chairman of Japanese DRAM maker Elpida Memory. and, more recently, Tsinghua Unigroup, as its chief strategy officer.

Sakamoto, a veteran of Japan’s semiconductor industry, was at the helm of Elpida when it filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was later acquired by US rival Micron Technology. Prior to joining SwaySure, Sakamoto briefly served as senior vice president of Tsinghua Unigroup, a Beijing-based chipmaker that last year collapsed on a mountain of debt.

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“This will be my last job in my life and I will do everything I can to contribute my power to help SwaySure achieve its strategic goals,” Sakamoto said in a statement released by the company.

SwaySure’s chief executive is Liu Xiaoqiang, who managed several factories at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s most advanced wafer manufacturing foundry, according to the Taiwanese newspaper. times of freedom. Liu, whose name uses mainland Chinese pinyin rather than the Taiwanese version, has kept a low profile since resigning from TSMC three years ago, according to the paper.

China is aggressively courting semiconductor engineers from Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own. Taipei responded by threatening to sue anyone who helped transfer chip expertise to mainland China.

SwaySure is wholly owned by Shenzhen Major Industry Investment Group, a state-owned fund, with registered capital of 5 billion yuan ($747 million), according to company registration information platform Qichacha.

Earlier this month, Shenzhen – known as China’s Silicon Valley – announced a plan to build “an influential cluster” for the semiconductor industry by 2025, with the aim of doubling the value of its existing chip sector in three years.

The city has also committed to cultivating at least three integrated circuit design companies with annual sales of more than 10 billion yuan each, and three chip makers with revenue of 2 billion yuan each.

Liu Xiaoqiang (left), chief executive of Shenzhen SwaySure Technology, and Yukio Sakamoto, newly appointed chief strategy officer. Photo: Brochure alt=Liu Xiaoqiang (left), chief executive of Shenzhen SwaySure Technology, and Yukio Sakamoto, newly appointed chief strategy officer. Photo: Handout>

In an official statement posted on WeChat, SwaySure said it will work on developing new semiconductor memory materials, invest in and build wafer factories, and design, produce and sell finished chips. The company added that it will focus on DRAMs used in data centers and smartphones, with its main research and development teams located in China and Japan.

Chinese chipmakers have had an uneven track record trying to challenge the global market leaders in DRAMs. Previous attempts, including one by Sakamoto in 2017, have failed. In 2019, a DRAM start-up in Fujian province went bankrupt after being hit by Washington trade sanctions for alleged theft of intellectual property from a Micron subsidiary in Taiwan.

In addition to SwaySure, ChangXin Memory Technologies, or CXMT, is emerging as a major national DRAM maker backed by state funds and tech giants Alibaba Group Holding, which owns South China morning mail.

Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Micron together accounted for 94% of the $96.1 billion DRAM market in 2021, according to a report released last month by IC Insights.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice report on China and Asia for over a century. For more SCMP stories, explore the SCMP app or visit SCMP Facebook and twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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