Japan joins US-led effort to restrict China's access to chipmaking equipment

The country said it would limit exports from Nikon and Tokyo Electron.

Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Japan is officially moving forward with restrictions aimed at limiting China’s access to advanced chipmaking machinery. As CNN reports, the country announced Friday it would tighten export controls on 23 types of semiconductor manufacturing equipment. Once the new rules take effect in July, companies like Nikon and Tokyo Electron will need to obtain approval from Japan’s trade ministry if they want to sell their tools in some 160 territories across the world. A Japanese government spokesperson told CNN the restrictions aren’t designed to target a specific nation. However, Japan’s east asian rival is among the nations on the restricted list.

“We will fulfill our responsibilities in the international community as a technology-owning country and contribute to maintaining international peace and security,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters.

The restrictions follow the US and Netherlands enacting similar export controls. At the start of the year, the three countries reportedly reached an agreement to limit China’s access to western-made lithography machines. In March, the Netherlands made good on the deal, announcing it would restrict overseas sales of semiconductor technology in the interest of its national security. Those restrictions will affect ASML. As of last year, the Dutch firm was the only company in the world producing the extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines chipmakers need to make the 5nm and 3nm semiconductors that power the latest phones and computers.

China has homegrown firms capable of making up some of the shortfall the country’s tech industry will experience from the lack of access to western-made lithography equipment. However, it may take some time before those companies match the capacity of their American, Japanese and European rivals. According to research from Reuters, Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment (SMEE), China’s only producer of lithography equipment, makes machines capable of printing 90nm node semiconductors. More promising is the work of SMIC, the country’s leading semiconductor manufacturer. Last summer, it began volume production of 14nm chips and began making 7nm chips without access to foreign-made equipment.