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A man views a display at the Semicon China exhibition, March 17, 2021. Photo: Reuters

US-China tech war: Chinese semiconductor output surged 33 per cent last year, double the growth rate in 2020

  • The latest data highlights the country’s efforts to boost chip output amid a protracted semiconductor shortage and Beijing’s push for tech self-sufficiency
  • Separately, China’s chip imports amounted to US$432 billion in 2021, a 23.6 per cent increase from the previous year

China’s output of integrated circuits (ICs), including those produced by local companies and foreign-owned factories, last year grew at double the rate seen in 2020, according to Chinese government data.

China produced 359.4 billion ICs in 2021, up 33.3 per cent year on year, according to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday. It marked a significant acceleration from 2020, when China’s IC output rose 16.2 per cent to 261.3 billion units.

While the official data did not provide a breakdown by technology node – China is unable to produce the most advanced ICs – or by company, it highlighted the country’s efforts to boost output amid a protracted chip shortage and Beijing’s push for semiconductor self-sufficiency.

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The growth in output also provides fresh evidence that Beijing’s efforts to maintain China’s integration with global supply chains is paying off.

A report issued by the US-based Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) earlier this month forecast that China’s semiconductor industry could account for 17.4 per cent of global sales by 2024, up from 9 per cent in 2020, if its current momentum is maintained.

That would make China the world’s No 3 seller of chips – a different metric to production output – behind only the US and South Korea.


China’s efforts to grow its chip sector with government subsidies, procurement preferences, and other preferential policies have triggered an investment boom in the industry.

China announced 28 additional wafer fabrication construction projects totalling US$26 billion in 2021, although many were for mature technologies like analogue chips and MEMS, according to the SIA.

Separately, China’s imports of ICs amounted to US$432 billion in 2021, a 23.6 per cent increase from the previous year, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Friday. China’s spending on imported semiconductors equals what the country spends on grain and crude oil combined.

In terms of volume, China imported 432.5 billion ICs in 2021, still larger than the country’s output.


However, Chinese companies are still small players on the global stage. In 2021, 17 semiconductor firms generated more than US$10 billion in total revenue, but none were Chinese, according to a report from US research company IC Insights last month.

South Korean memory chip giant Samsung Electronics topped the list with $US78.8 billion in revenues, followed by US chip giant Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Mainland China’s largest chip maker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, ranked 25th on the chart, according to IC Insights.


Separately, China’s output of new energy vehicles jumped 145.6 per cent in 2021, while its output of robotics grew 44.9 per cent, according to the NBS data.