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China’s Ties With Taiwan Chip Firms Under Scrutiny As U.S. Trade War Heats Up

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China's Ties With Taiwan Chip Firms Under Scrutiny As U.S. Trade War Heats Up

Washington’s decision to cut off U.S. supplies to a Chinese chip-maker spotlights mounting tensions over China’s drive to be a global player in computer chips and the ways in which Taiwan companies are helping it get there.

Shut out of major global semiconductor deals in recent years, China has been quietly strengthening cooperation with Taiwan chip firms by encouraging the transfer of chip-making expertise into the mainland.

Taiwan chip giant United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) last week halted research and development activities with its Chinese state-backed partner Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co Ltd, following the U.S. move.

Taiwan firms such as UMC have helped supply China with a steady pipeline of chip expertise in exchange for access to the fast-growing chip market there.

China has faced a shortage of integrated circuit (IC) chips for years. In 2017, it imported $270 billion worth of semiconductors, more than its imports of crude oil.

At least 10 joint ventures or technology partnerships have been set up in the last few years between Chinese and Taiwanese firms, according to industry experts, luring Taiwanese talent with hefty salaries and generous perks.

“Such companies will need to also take care to ensure no patent or IP infringement is involved as the U.S. has export control means to restrict support of critical technology,” said Randy Abrams, an analyst at Credit Suisse in Taipei.

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Among the most valuable cross-strait partnerships for China would be ones that strengthen its foundry services and memory chip production. Those two sectors require much-needed help from overseas firms due to the complexity of the manufacturing technologies and intense capital requirements, analysts have said.

TRADE TENSIONS

But the technology transfer between China and self-ruled Taiwan has raised concerns amid the Sino-U.S. trade war and escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

China has aggressively used “market-distorting subsidies” and “forced technology transfers” to capture traditional and emerging technology industries, Brent Christensen, the director of America’s de facto embassy in Taipei, told a business gathering in late September.

“These actions are harming the United States’ economy, Taiwan’s economy, and other economies.”

Taiwan is one of the largest exporters of IC globally and many worry the island could lose a key economic engine to its political foe.

Taiwan’s government views the island’s chipmakers’ cooperation with China cautiously and has implemented policies to ensure Taiwan’s most advanced technology is not transferred.

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“When businesses go to the mainland to invest in wafer production, they must accept controls including one that requires the manufacturing technology to be a generation behind,” the economics ministry’s industrial development bureau said in a statement to Reuters.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CONCERNS

Cooperation between UMC and Fujian Jinhua came under scrutiny last month, when the U.S. government put the Chinese company on a list of entities that cannot buy components, software and technology goods from U.S. firms amid allegations it stole intellectual property from U.S.-based Micron Technology. Fujian Jinhua denied the allegations.

Fujian Jinhua now faces big challenges to reach commercial high volume production as expected in 2020, industry observers say.

Last week, both UMC and Fujian Jinhua, which was only founded in 2016, were charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets from Micron in a U.S. Justice Department indictment.

“Taiwanese tech companies need to carefully re-evaluate their positions and supply chain arrangements as the tension between the two super powers escalates,” Bernstein analyst Mark Li said.

While China will need at least six years before it can catch up in chip manufacturing, according to some estimates, the scale of its chip-making abilities is already seen as a threat in other parts of the chip supply chain.

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Barely 2-1/2 years after breaking ground on a 12-inch wafer plant in China, Nexchip, a joint venture between the Chinese city of Hefei and Taiwan DRAM maker Powerchip, started producing 8,000 wafers a month. Wafers are thin pieces of material, usually consisting of silicon, used to make semiconductor chips.

Nexchip’s main goal is to produce liquid crystal display driver ICs for flat-panel makers.

Using Powerchip’s resources and Taiwanese talent, which make up a quarter of its 1,200 employees, Nexchip is helping reduce China’s reliance on foreign chip suppliers.

With an aim to become “the world’s No.1 chipmaker for display drivers,” Nexchip plans to build three more 12-inch wafer plants and ramp up its monthly production to 20,000 wafers by 2019, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

After visiting Nexchip late last year, researchers from Taiwan’s chip hub, Hsinchu Science Park, said progress at the Hefei plant was a “breakthrough”.

“This will likely increase Taiwan firms’ needs to invest in the China market, and it will be a test for the (Taiwan) government’s industrial policy.”

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CBN, SEC Grant Approval In Principle To Access And Diamond Bank Amid Merger

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CBN SEC Grant Approval IN Principle To Access And Diamond Bank On Proposed Merger

The Central Bank of Nigeria and the Securities Exchange Commission have granted an approval in principle to Access Bank and Diamond Bank on their proposed merger.

An Access Bank Executive Director, Victor Etuokwu, says the banks were expecting the final approval to come after the banks’ shareholders meetings.

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Etuokwu said the banks have received two of three approvals needed for the process, and that the final approval would be completed in the next sixty days.

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Etuokwu said the new bank that would emerge after the merger would focus on retail and corporate banking.

Robert Giles in charge of retail at Diamond Bank says customers will be able to use Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, of either bank at no cost.

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Maritime Expert Urges FG To Develop Policies To Boost Ship Ownership In Nigeria

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Maritime Expert Urges FG To Develop Policies To Enable Ship Ownership In Nigeria

The federal government has been asked to develop policies that would help increase local ship ownership that would help in the training of Nigerian seafarers.  Currently, there are no locally-owned ships operating in international waters.

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The call was made in Abuja on Tuesday by Mfon Ekong Usoro, secretary-general of the Abuja M.O.U. On Port State Control for West and Central African Region.

She said the absence of locally-owned vessels trading at the international stage has reduced opportunities for hand-on experience for Nigerian seafarers.

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Usoro said this has reduced the abilities of Nigerian seafarers to compete against their contemporaries around the world in areas of international shipping.

She called on NIMASA to invest in a training ship like that of South Africa’s Samsa and create berths for sea training for Nigerian seafarers.

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China Central Bank Injects $83 Billion Into Economy

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China: Central Bank Injects $83 Billion Into Economy

China’s central bank has on Wednesday injected a record $83 billion into the country’s financial system in order to avert a cash crunch that could destabilise the country’s economy.

The country’s weakening economy has made policymakers to step up stimulus measures in protecting jobs,

But a raft of measures last year from big rail projects to tax cuts seem to have had little impact so far, with recent data suggesting activity is cooling more quickly than expected.

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A senior economist in Hong Kong, Trinh Nguyen said, it is very obvious the economy of China needs help and so many authorities agreed to that.

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Wednesday’s injection was aimed at ensuring there are ample funds in the financial system, which is facing strains as tax payments peak in mid-January, and as demand for cash picks up ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays starting in early February, People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said.

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The injection which is the bank’s largest net single-day injection came a day after China’s state planner, central bank and finance ministry all offered reassurances to investors, signaling more spending and other types of policy support.

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