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US reportedly halted ASML's chipmaking machine shipments to China weeks before ban

'Shipments of a limited number of machines' were affected.

REUTERS / Reuters

NVIDIA may have figured out a way to go around the US export restrictions on China, but apparently ASML, the Dutch firm behind the key chipmaking equipment, isn't having much say on this end. According to Bloomberg, Biden's administration reportedly reached out to ASML "weeks before" the January 1, 2024 export ban deadline, requesting the firm to halt some pre-scheduled shipments of its deep ultraviolet lithography (DUV) machines to its Chinese customers. This came after the revelation that SMIC used ASML tech to manufacture Huawei's latest flagship processor, the 7nm HiSilicon Kirin 9000S.

In addition to DUV machines, ASML also manufactures extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines for making more advanced chips — with node processes of 5nm or less — for the likes of Apple and Qualcomm. While ASML was never allowed to sell EUV equipment to China, the Dutch government did grant licenses to the firm for shipping DUV machines to China until the end of 2023.

Bloomberg reports that things changed when the US government — National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, specifically — allegedly contacted the Dutch government regarding some of ASML's final shipments to China, to which his team was asked to reach out to ASML directly. "Shipments of a limited number of machines" were affected.

While China had been able to source lithography machines from elsewhere, they tended to be off less advanced methods. Not to mention the joint effort between the US, Japan and the Netherlands on limiting China's access to such equipment. That said, China had since been pushed to beef up its own silicon ecosystem, to the point where it surprised the world with its homegrown 7nm mobile 5G chip. It's no wonder the US was desperate to halt ASML's final DUV shipments to China, though doing so before the agreed deadline may be a questionable move.