A few months before the US-China trade war started in July 2018, local media coverage of President Xi Jinping was focused on his efforts to rally the country’s top scientists and engineers to pursue breakthroughs in core technologies , as tensions simmered between Beijing and Washington. Many of those reports carried Xinhua’s picture of Xi and his entourage clad in white protective coats on a tour of the facilities at Wuhan Xinxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (XMC), a subsidiary of China’s top memory chip maker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co (YMTC). Fast forward to the present and YMTC remains a force in China’s semiconductor self-sufficiency drive, but its circumstances have changed. It is no longer owned by tech conglomerate Tsinghua Unigroup , which was acquired in July by Beijing Zhiguangxin Holding . Meanwhile, former Tsinghua Unigroup chairman Zhao Weiguo, who accompanied Xi on that chip factory tour, has been put under investigation . More importantly, YMTC faces pressure amid the possibility that it might come under new US trade sanctions . The firm, based in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, did not reply to requests for comment. YMTC has been relatively unscathed by the growing tensions between Beijing and Washington. It did not suffer the same fate of major Chinese tech firms like Huawei Technologies Co and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp , which were added to Washington’s trade blacklist in the early days of the US-China tech war . As such, YMTC finds itself leading the way for China’s semiconductor industry to cut reliance on imported technologies, while continuing to pursue innovation. “YMTC is not a copycat with trailing-edge technology, like [how] many erroneously perceive Chinese semiconductor companies [to be],” Dylan Patel, chief analyst at Los Angeles-based SemiAnalysis, wrote in a newsletter last month. “They are building their own innovative and unique products.” The memory chip maker, according to a Nikkei Asia report published in May 2021, had set up a task force of more than 800 people to review its supply chain, with the ultimate goal of replacing US suppliers. Although that report was subsequently denied by YMTC, it reflected how the company has become an integral part of the global semiconductor supply chain. Privately-held YMTC was established in July 2016 after Tsinghua Unigroup took over the memory chip unit of Wuhan XMC, which was founded in 2006 and operates two chip fabrication plants. XMC had collaborated with and licensed the Flash memory technology of US firm Spansion since 2008. Spansion was later acquired by Cypress Semiconductor, which was then bought in 2020 by German firm Infineon Technologies . The state-backed China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund , also known as the Big Fund, and Hubei Science & Technology Investment Group provided seed capital of about 18.9 billion yuan (US$2.67 billion) to YMTC. Total investments to YMTC reached US$24 billion, according to the company’s website. In October 2017, YMTC designed and manufactured China’s first 3D NAND flash memory wafer through its own research and development and international cooperation, according to the firm’s website. Its 3D NAND flash memory packaged chips are embedded in various storage devices as well as consumer and enterprise solid-state drives, which are widely used in mobile devices, personal computers, servers and various consumer electronics products. YMTC has more than 10,000 employees worldwide, including 6,000 engineers involved in research and development activities. The company is looking to hire graduates to fill dozens of positions at its operations in Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing, according to its latest recruitment post. One of the company’s latest NAND chip products, according to Chinese media reports, is a 232-layer chip that puts the firm on par with, if not better than, the world’s leading memory chip manufacturers that include Samsung Electronics , Micron and SK Hynix . There has been no official YMTC confirmation about that reported breakthrough. China is the world’s second-largest market for NAND flash products, making up more than 31 per cent of the global market, according to data from Minsheng Securities. YMTC, however, only had a 1 per cent share of the global memory chip market in 2020. Samsung, Toshiba, Western Digital, Intel, Micron and SK Hynix controlled 95 per cent in the same period, according to Minsheng Securities. By 2025, it expected YMTC to increase its share to 6 per cent. Still, YMTC has been expected to become a memory chip supplier to Apple , with the iPhone and iPad maker reportedly keen to use the Chinese firm’s products for devices sold on the mainland. China’s memory chip champion YMTC stays mum amid threat of US sanctions “YMTC’s chance to enter Apple’s supply chain as a key player of the Chinese memory industry has great symbolic significance for the industry and is a recognition of its technological prowess,” said Arisa Liu, a senior semiconductor research fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. That potential development, however, has reportedly raised eyebrows back in the US. Washington, according to reports in August, has been contemplating a ban on selling US semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China’s advanced NAND Flash chip foundries , which would mark the first time this segment of the mainland’s integrated circuit industry has been targeted by the US government. The possibility of the US expanding the scope of its trade sanctions to include YMTC is real, given the memory chip maker’s technological progress, according to Liu from the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. US Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer renewed calls on Washington to add YMTC to its trade blacklist for violating export controls by supplying chips to Huawei , based upon findings from a third-party teardown report by the Canada-based consulting firm IP Research Group, according to a Financial Times report on Thursday. The teardown showed that YMTC supplied NAND memory chips to Huawei’s foldable smartphone , the Mate Xs 2, the report said. But Siva Manoharan, IP Research Group’s founder and managing partner, downplayed the significance of their teardown analysis in an emailed response to the South China Morning Post. He said the group just “supplied a picture of the chips found on the phone, nothing more – there is no evidence or opinion on the dates or sources of any chips on the phone or when the phone was manufactured”. YMTC, which last year denied US politicians’ claims that it had ties to the Chinese military, has remained mum on the prospects of being hit by US sanctions . Such trade restrictions could impact the firm’s operations, which uses semiconductor manufacturing gear from Lam Research and licensed technology from Adeia, part of Xperi Holding Corp, according to Patel from SemiAnalysis. The NAND Flash memory chip market is currently “frosty”, according to a research note by TrendForce analyst Bryan Ao, who said inventories are at a “breaking point” and that chip makers are being forced to cut prices. YMTC had previously planned to process a monthly capacity of 30,000 wafers by 2020, which would reach 1 million by 2030 after its three fabs reach full capacity in 2025.