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'I think this is a 10-year gap' – Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger says China is majorly behind in chip manufacturing thanks to export restrictions and looks to stay that way for the foreseeable future

 Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger speaking at the World Economic Forum.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger speaking at the World Economic Forum.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger sat down for a conversation with the founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab at the 2024 WEF annual meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday, in a wide-ranging discussion that included some of Intel's manufacturing plans for the future.

However, it was his comments on China in regards to the current export restrictions that drew much of the interest, as the Intel chief thinks that the current export policies of several countries in combination with a lack of interconnection within the industry has kept China behind by 10 years, and that gap looks set to continue.

"The export policies that have been put in place...sort of puts a floor in the 10-7nm range...we are racing to go below 2nm, then 1.5nm" said the Intel CEO. "It's not like China is not going to keep innovating, but this is a highly interconnected industry, the staging of Trumpf, the mirrors of Zeiss, the equipment assembly of ASML, the chemicals and resist in Japan, the mask making of Intel."

"All of those together, I think this is a 10-year gap, and I think it is a sustainable 10-year gap with the export policies that have been put in place."

The Biden administration in particular has hit Chinese chip-manufacturing and development hard with a raft of export restrictions since 2022 that ban the export of not only the most cutting edge chips, but also chip design software, manufacturing equipment and US-built components.

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More than that, the prohibitions also cover the chip exports of any company worldwide that uses US semiconductor technology, which has left China out in the cold when it comes to keeping up with the pace of chip development and manufacturing.

However, while these restrictions certainly seem to have been effective overall, it hasn't stopped attempts to circumvent them, with companies like Nvidia receiving strongly worded warnings from the US government in regards to redesigning its products to beat the export bans.

It's also been reported that Chinese companies have been buying advanced US chip manufacturing tools by using importers that claim the equipment will be used on older production lines, with very little way of verifying that the chipmaking tools are not used to create more advanced chips.

Still, if the Intel CEO's comments are to be believed it looks like these sanctions are currently working as intended, and while China continues to be kept off the pace by these restrictions, chip-manufacturers like Intel are forging ahead into the future, including the development of a huge new chip fabrication plant in Germany that Gelsinger says is going to be "the most advanced manufacturing in the world."

In chip development it seems, standing still may be as bad as going backwards, and while Intel continues its race to catch up to TMSC, it seems like it has no plans to slow down anytime soon.