There’s one crucial fact missing from this crucial news item – which features an Intel executive’s prediction that, within five years, strong Chinese rivals will emerge to the giant U.S.-owned semiconductor manufacturer. This development, which has massive implications for America’s national security and economy, will stem in no small measure from Intel’s own major transfers of technology to the Chinese economy.
Just as important: Intel’s tech transfers are continuing even though the company has been lobbying hard to secure huge U.S. government subsidies it claims it needs to build more advanced microchip production in the United States – in order to improve its competitiveness versus China. But since money is fungible, these taxpayer dollars could indirectly find their way into China’s tech sector if – as likely – a big legislative package of support for American technology development is approved by Congress.
Like many big U.S. tech companies, Intel has been helping strengthen China’s technology prowess for literally decades. In 1998, the company announced plans to build a $50 million research center in Beijing, and by 2007, had opened another in Shanghai. According to the above linked account, Intel was focusing on developing software, not semiconductors. But the same piece reported that this work aimed at helping Chinese programmers “get ready for processors wih multiple cores,” and that “Some of the work surrounding Intel’s so-called terascale research–most recently showcased through its 80-core chip prototype–is also being done” in Beijing.
More broadly, an Intel China executive said that “The company is spending a lot of time and money working with the local university education system on science and technology education” – including electrical engineering programs.
Since then, as RealityChek has reported, Intel’s research and development operations in China have expanded significantly. A 2014 post contained the news that the company was working with a state-owned Chinese partner to produce microchips “for the cheapo but technologically advanced phones selling so well in low-income countries like China.” Its involvement in this venture, moreover, built on its “establishment earlier this year of a Smart Device Innovation Center and $100 million venture fund in the same field, and tie-up with a Chinese fabless chip-maker.” Although the semiconductors in question were not cutting-edge, who can doubt that teaching Chinese engineers how to build so-called legacy semiconductors was bound to increase their ability to build more advanced devices down the road?
The following year, I summarized a post from the Taiwanese tech website Digitimes.com (also the source for the Intel prediction leading off this piece) that detailed how Intel had committed a total of nearly $1.8 billion to help Chinese entities develop advanced new products and services. They included unmanned aerial vehicles, smart devices, robotics, cloud computing services, artificial intelligence, machine vision, three-dimensional modeling, virtual reality technologies, and advanced optics.” None of these could ever be relevant to semiconductor production – or advanced weapons systems – could they?
And just last November, I mentioned a Wall Street Journal piece finding that Intel is ntel “is among the active investors, backing a Chinese company now called Primarius Technologies Co., which specializes in chip-design tools that U.S. companies currently lead in making.”
As I’ve written repeatedly, such activities amount to U.S. companies – and U.S. administrations that ignored or approved them – selling China the rope with which to hang America (paraphrasing the famous prediction of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution that created the Soviet Union). In Intel’s case (and it’s not alone here), the companies keep undercutting their own fortunes. And unless Washington conditions handouts for Intel and other tech companies on halting these giveaways, American taxpayers will finance much of it.
Full disclosure: Investment-wise, I’m neither long nor short Intel, though I am long TSMC – the Taiwanese chip manufacturer that’s Intel’s top competitor, and that recently replaced it as the world leader in semiconductor production technology.