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商业 - 科技

贸易争端时代,中国芯片行业能否迎头赶上?

Grady McGregor 2019年12月01日

越来越多的证据表明,中国的芯片制造正在进入一个新时代。

众所周知,中国进口半导体芯片的支出比进口石油还高,这说明了中国对外国芯片的严重依赖。即使是现在,虽然已经耕耘多年,但中国在微型芯片制造方面仍然远远落后于美国,而这些芯片是iPhone、三星Galaxy或华为Mate等手机的动力来源。但随着中国与美国的紧张关系不断升级,由于英特尔和高通等芯片巨头都是美国公司,可能会刺激中国企业和供应链最终迎头赶上。

半导体硅芯片已经成为技术革命的支柱,为移动电话、电脑、无人驾驶汽车和“智能”设备提供动力。它们的计算能力每两年就会翻一番(这种工业原理被称为摩尔定律),推动人类进入前所未有的技术大发展时代。

20世纪50年代以来,中国就开始投入到关键零部件的开发。但事实证明,芯片的制造尤其困难,因为创新成本高、发展快,很难赶上。例如,2017年,仅英特尔就在半导体研发上投入了130多亿美元。

在中国,国家主导的半导体计划甚至连国内需求都难以满足。20世纪90年代,一个知名的大规模政府项目尽管资金充足却收效甚微。然而,随着中国在20世纪90年代和本世纪头十年的对外开放,科技水平又不断提高,国内对先进芯片的需求有增无减。21世纪初,中国再次试图通过行业改造来刺激创新:大规模私营化、引入税收优惠、提供新的资金。但这些努力基本上也徒劳无功。

麦肯锡研究半导体业务的管理合伙人克里斯托弗·托马斯表示,事实证明,中国的半导体投资规模太小,而且过于分散,无法对全球市场产生重大影响。

寻求自给自足

2015年,中国政府推出了另一项计划,发布了一系列以科技为重点的政策目标,名为“中国制造2025”,目标包括2020年实现半导体自给率达到40%,2025年达到70%。随之而来的是大量针对该技术的投资承诺,例如10月宣布的300亿美元半导体基金。

China famously spends more on importing semiconductor chips than it does on importing oil. This bit of trivia illustrates China’s deep dependency on foreign chips and is especially notable given China’s outsize efforts to break the habit. Even now, after years of investments, China still lags far behind the U.S. in manufacturing the tiny chips that power your iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or Huawei Mate. But the nation’s escalating tensions with the U.S.—home of giant chipmakers like Intel and Qualcomm—may be spurring China’s firms and supply chains to finally catch up.

Semiconductor silicon chips have formed the backbone of the technological revolution, helping to power mobile phones, computers, driverless cars, and “smart” devices. And they’ve doubled in computing power every two years—an industry principle known as Moore’s Law—spurring the unprecedented era of technological growth.

China has devoted resources to developing the crucial components since the 1950s. But chips have proven particularly difficult to manufacture since innovation is costly, and their rapid advancement is difficult to catch up with. In 2017, for example, Intel alone spent over $13 billion on research and development for semiconductors.

In China, state-led semiconductor initiatives have proved inadequate to meet even domestic demand. A large, well-funded state push in the 1990s famously yielded few results. Yet the need for advanced chips only grew as the country opened up in the 1990s and 2000s and became more technologically advanced. In the 2000s, the country again attempted to spur innovation by transforming the industry; it privatized much of the sector, introduced tax benefits, and created new funds. That effort too was largely fruitless.

According to Christopher Thomas, a managing partner at McKinsey focused on semiconductors, China’s semiconductor investments have often proved too small and dispersed to make any significant dent in the global marketplace.

Seeking self-sufficiency

In 2015, the Chinese government introduced yet another initiative, releasing a set of tech-focused policy goals called “Made in China 2025,” which aimed for 40% self-sufficiency in semiconductors by 2020, and 70% by 2025. This policy came with massive investment pledges into the technology, such as the $30 billion semiconductor fund announced in October.

2018年11月29日,上海举行的制造业博览会上,一名男子走过“中国制造2025”的标志牌。图片来源:Visual China Group via Getty Images

《日经亚洲评论》(Nikkei Asian Review)的数据显示,虽然中国在芯片行业取得了一些进展,但截至去年自给率仅为15%左右。“过去五年,这个行业的生产制造没有产生任何结构性的变化。”托马斯说。

但越来越多的证据表明,中国的芯片制造正在进入一个新时代。与美国的争端似乎刺激了中国的创新。

贸易争端的涓滴效应

16个月的中美贸易争端还没有直接影响到芯片行业,但该行业已经受到了贸易争端涓滴效应的影响。2018年7月起,美中两国连续几轮关税战给两国依赖半导体的科技公司带来了不小压力,因为针对相关设备的斗争已经陷入了针锋相对的局面。价格因此上涨;像英特尔这样的公司甚至已经开始将供应链移出中国。

该行业的行业协会近期表示希望中美通过协商达成贸易协议,呼吁双方“取消有害关税”。

黑名单是另一个问题,这是美国使出的阻碍中国科技的另外一个机制。去年5月,美国将华为和超过70家附属公司加入政府实体清单(实际上就是一个黑名单),因为美国认为它们会对国家安全造成威胁。最近几周,随着美国在名单上加入了许多顶尖的人工智能公司,这个名单还在增加。新上榜的这些公司依赖于先进的芯片,但列入实体清单导致美国公司几乎不可能向它们提供所需的零部件。

While the country has made some progress, as of last year it had reached only about 15% self-sufficiency, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. “In manufacturing there’s been no structural changes in the industry in the last five years,” said Thomas.

But there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests a new era in China’s chipmaking is underway. In this case, it seems, conflict with the U.S. is incentivizing China to innovate.

A trade war trickles down

The 16-month U.S.-China trade war hasn’t hit chips directly, but the industry has endured its trickle-down effects. Starting in July 2018, successive rounds of tariffs levied from the U.S. and China put a strain on technology companies in both countries that rely on semiconductors as related equipment got caught in the tit-for-tat. That led to higher prices; firms like Intel have even begun shifting supply chains away from China.

The industry’s trade association recently championed discussion of a U.S.-China trade deal, and called for the two sides to “remove harmful tariffs.”

Then there’s the matter of blacklisting, another mechanism employed by the U.S. that’s had a stymying effect on Chinese tech. Last May, the U.S. added Huawei and over 70 affiliated companies to the government’s entity list—essentially a blacklist—because the U.S. viewed it as a national security threat. In recent weeks, the list has grown, with the U.S. adding a number of top A.I. firms to it. The new entries depend on advanced chips, but the classification makes it nearly impossible for U.S. firms to supply them with the parts they need.

今年5月,美国阻击华为,将其列入“实体清单”,这种做法实际上是禁止华为在美国开展任何业务。图片来源:Henrique Casinhas—SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

英国的《金融时报》报道,美国甚至出于安全考虑敦促一家企业——全球最大的芯片制造商台积电——停止向华为供应芯片。与台积电关系密切的台湾地区当局否认了这一报道,称将继续与华为合作。

中国的本土芯片

面临这样的紧张局势,中国的科技巨头加快了自己的芯片生产。华为自己在8月也推出了一款由人工智能驱动的新款芯片,以协助处理大量数据。同样,中国的科技和电子商务巨头阿里巴巴在去年9月宣布,已经自主开发了人工智能芯片用于该公司的云计算服务。这些芯片代表着巨大进步,但这些公司仍然在很大程度上依赖从中国大陆境外进口芯片。就在几天前,华为高管还访问了台湾地区,确保台积电能够继续向他们提供最先进的芯片。

美国MSA Captial驻北京的管理合伙人、投资人本·哈伯格说,美国利用其在芯片行业的主导地位做出的种种决定短期内似乎损害了中国的利益。但在未来,他说,“输家是美国。”

“如今投资的方向和资本的流向,是(中国的)替代产业,是中国自给自足的产业,(比如)芯片。”他于11月初在广州举办的《钜富》全球科技论坛上表示,“将供应链、资本市场和人才的规模扩大一倍,最终会在中国国内形成一个自给自足的体系。”

长江商学院的金融学教授甘洁也持类似看法:“未来10年,中国将在技术战中扮演更势均力敌的角色。”由于美国目前在半导体领域拥有优势,它通过威胁不向中国供货让中国为难。但随着中国在芯片制造和总体技术领域实力增长,“(美国)将被迫更加合作。”她表示。

哈伯格称,他认为芯片领域将变成一个日益“分裂的世界”,美国和中国将各自经营自己的生产链,第三方最终可能不得不在这两者之间做出选择。

如果供应链完全分裂,将是大型芯片制造商不愿意看到的结果,因为在全球范围内整合供应链对降低成本、转移技术、促进创新至关重要。

随着中国寻求增强其芯片制造实力,一个长远的问题是这种努力是会导致出现两个独立的市场(一个在美国,另一个在中国),还是中国会在全球芯片制造领域成为更势均力敌的对手。然而,一个更直接的问题是,中国当前的创新热潮是否会比过去结出更多的果实。(钜富中国网)

译者:Agatha

The U.S. reportedly even urged a foreign chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest, to stop selling chips to Huawei over security fears, according to the Financial Times. The government of Taiwan, which is closely tied to TSMC, denied the report and vowed to continue its relationship with Huawei.

China’s homemade chips

Amid all this tension, Chinese tech giants have ramped up their own chip production. Huawei itself introduced a new A.I.-powered chip to the market in August to help process large data. Likewise, Alibaba, the Chinese tech and e-commerce giant, announced in September it had developed its own A.I.-chip for use in its cloud computing services. These chips represent significant strides, but the firms still remain largely dependent on importing chips from outside mainland China’s borders. Just a few days ago, Huawei’s top executives made a trip to Taiwan to ensure that TSMC could continue supplying them with the most advanced chips.

The U.S.’s decisions to leverage its chipmaking dominance seems to be hurting China in the short-term, said investor Ben Harburg, a managing partner at MSA Captial in Beijing. But farther down the road, he said, "the loser is the United States.”

“Where the investment is going today, and where the capital is flowing today, is in (China’s) replacement, self-sufficiency industries (like) chips," he said at Fortune’s Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou last week. “[D]ecoupling supply chains, capital markets, [and] talent ultimately breeds a system internally of self-sufficiency for China.”

Gan Jie, professor of finance at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business takes a similar long view: “Ten years down the road, China will be more of an equal partner in terms of the technology war,” she said. Because the U.S. has such an advantage now in semiconductors, its threats to withhold the technology from China sting. But as China gains in chipmaking and general technological prowess, “[the U.S.] will be forced to be more collaborative,” she said.

Harburg said he sees an increasingly “balkanized and bifurcated world” emerging in the chip space, with the U.S. and China operating their own distinct production chains that third parties may ultimate have to choose between.

Should supply chains fully split, it’d be an undesirable outcome for major chipmakers, since integrating supply chains globally is critical to keeping costs down, transferring technology, and fostering innovation.

As China seeks to grow its chipmaking prowess, one longterm question is whether the effort will spur the emergence of two separate markets—one in the U.S. and another in China—or if China will simply become a more equal player in the global chipmaking landscape. A more immediate question, however, is whether China’s current innovation spurt will bear more fruit than those of the past.

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