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CHIPS Act restrictions finalized

On September 25, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a finalized set of national security guardrails for the CHIPS and Science Act. The CHIPS Act was passed in August 2022 and provides companies with roughly $52 billion in federal subsidies to develop new chip technologies and construct semiconductor fabrication plants in the United States. Under the finalized rules, companies seeking funds under the Act will be prohibited from expanding their advanced or legacy facilities in countries of concern and conducting joint research or technology licensing with certain Chinese entities.  

The finalized rules provide some clarity to Taiwanese and South Korean chipmaking companies which currently rely on one-year exemption rules granted by the US to continue exporting semiconductor equipment to China. For example, chipmakers Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix Inc will be able to continue routine upgrades to their advanced chipmaking facilities in China subject to the 5% capacity rule. Companies might also figure out ways to bypass the 5% facility expansion rule in the future through a combination of technological development and increased production density.  

The U.S. continues to utilize the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) Entity List and the UFLPA to place restrictions on Chinese companies that violate U.S. interests or participate in forced labor. Amidst the continued trade tensions, political tensions between the United States and China will also be influenced by the result of Taiwan’s upcoming presidential elections which have been scheduled for January 2024. 

Additional entities added to the EAR and UFLPA entity lists 

National security concerns also continue to motivate additional export restrictions by the U.S. On September 27, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced an addition of 11 Chinese entities, including organizations and individuals, to its EAR Entity List for their ties to military operations in Russia, Iran, and Pakistan. 

A further three Chinese entities have also been added to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) UFLPA entity list as of September 27, namely Xinjiang Tianmian Foundation Textile Co., Ltd., Xinjiang Tianshan Wool Textile Co., Ltd., and chlor-alkali and textile products company Xinjiang Zhongtai Group Co., Ltd.   

In addition to the expansion of the UFLPA list, the CBP has also continued to detain goods entering the US for possible UFLPA violations. For example, CBP statistics indicate seizures of electronic products and components comprised the bulk of shipments examined by the CBP in August 2023. The electronic shipments seized by the CBP continue to originate primarily from Southeast Asia with August data indicating that Vietnam accounted for 100 shipments, followed by Malaysia (36), Thailand (30), and finally China (2).  

Geopolitical risks could rise as Taiwan election approaches 

Geopolitical tensions could increase in the coming months ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election which is slated for January 13, 2024. The upcoming vote is seen as a vital indicator of the future of cross-strait tensions between China and Taiwan as relations between the two territories have deteriorated severely since Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Tsai Ing Wen took office in 2016. The importance of the upcoming elections has resulted in increased diplomatic and military manoeuvring from China.  

So far, William Lai from the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is holding the lead in opinion polls, with Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) taking second place. The DPP is seen as an anti-mainland party that rejects the ‘One China Principle’ in favour of a separate Taiwanese identity and the current government has recently pushed through additional rules to regulate the transfer of key technologies to China. For example, the DPP-led Taiwanese legislature targeted economic espionage by Chinese companies by amending the country’s National Security Act in May 2022. The amendment imposed a range of restrictions on Taiwan-Chinese technology transfers including a rule that disallows Chinese for-profit businesses from establishing offices in Taiwan without approval and a penalty of up to NT$100 million or up to 12 years in prison for entities that leak sensitive technologies to companies in China, Hong Kong, and Macau.   

Moreover, Taiwan’s National Security Council has also revealed a plan to protect a list of critical technologies from China’s intervention by the end of 2023. The upcoming policy is expected to cover the semiconductor, agriculture, aerospace, and IT sectors and will further restrict investments, labour, operations, and transfers of key technologies to China. Restrictions of sensitive technologies between China and Taiwan are likely to continue should the DPP retain the presidency in the upcoming elections, and the Chinese government will also continue ramping up military, economic, and diplomatic pressure against Taiwan in this scenario.  

On the other hand, cross-strait tensions would likely improve should the candidate from the more pragmatic TPP party win the elections as China would likely seek a resetting of relations with the new government. An improvement in China-Taiwan relations would also likely occur should Hou Yu-ih, who represents the China-leaning Kuomintang (KMT) party, win the elections. The KMT opposes de jure Taiwanese independence and is seen as the party that is most committed to upholding the ‘One China Policy.’  

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