With US officials acknowledging that Washington has indeed been in talks with the Japanese and Dutch governments regarding new restrictions on semiconductor equipment exports to China, many have speculated how such a deal would impact chip equipment makers in Japan. As of now, equipment makers have either refrained from direct comments, or have expressed cautious optimism about how this deal would impact them.
According to news reports by Reuters and Bloomberg, officials from Japan and the Netherlands visited the White House on January 27 to discuss a wide array of issues with US President Joe Biden. It was later reported that a deal is made among the three countries, that Japan and the Netherlands will be adopting some of the US's restrictions on chipmaking equipment.
Don Graves, the US Deputy Secretary of Commerce, essentially confirmed the existence of a deal by mentioning it on the sidelines of a Washington event on January 31. Though he didn't speak in detail about the deal, he did tell reporters that they "can certainly talk to our friends in Japan and the Netherlands."
The deal is deemed crucial to recent US efforts to restrict chip manufacturing and development in China. This is because the global market for chipmaking equipment is dominated by US company Applied Materials, Dutch company ASML, and Japanese company Tokyo Electron. The latter two companies produce equipment that doesn't rely on US technology.
Despite the deal being confirmed by the US, the details are still unknown and implementation can also take months. A Reuters report on January 30 stated that among the ten Japanese chip-related companies they contacted, five said that they have yet to hear from the government about export restrictions that could affect their business in China. The other five didn't respond when asked about the matter, including Tokyo Electron - the third largest chip equipment maker in the world.
Other companies in Japan's semiconductor sector have responded to news of the deal. In an interview with Nikkei, DISCO Corp president Kazuma Sekiya mentioned that while the company's business has not been significantly impacted yet, it will be cautiously observing how the US-China conflict affects the chip equipment market. DISCO accounts for over 70% of the global market share in wafer-cutting equipment.
Another company that is closely observing this situation is optical product maker Canon. Canon EVP and CFO Toshizo Tanaka stated that he believes "lithography equipment won't be part of the restriction. Therefore, there is little to no direct impact." However, he also stated that there is a possibility that restrictions will be further tightened, and that the company will be following the issue closely.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's economy and trade minister, told Nikkei reporters on January 28 that they "...are strictly implementing export control based on international cooperation," and that Japan will "take into account restrictions adopted by other nations and respond appropriately." Regarding the three-way talk on January 27, he declined to comment on what he referred to as "diplomatic negotiations."
In contrast to the uncertainty and cautious approach of Japanese companies, ASML, the third member of the three-way talk, stated on January 28 that they "understood" that progress has been made regarding the deal to restrict chipmaking equipment exports to China.