Tech war: Shenzhen recruits Japanese semiconductor heavyweight as China moves to challenge US, Korean dominance in memory chips

A fledgling Shenzhen government-owned chip start-up has recruited a heavyweight in Japan's semiconductor industry, in the latest sign of China's ambitions to grab a bigger share of the global DRAM market, which is being stolen from US and South Korean players is dominated.
Shenzhen SwaySure Technology, which was founded in March 2022 as part of the southern China city's plan to become a semiconductor hub, last week appointed 74-year-old Yukio Sakamoto, a former chief executive of Japanese DRAM maker Elpida Memory and most recently at Tsinghua Unigroup its Chief Strategy Officer.
Sakamoto, a veteran of the Japanese semiconductor industry, ran Elpida when it filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was later acquired by US competitor Micron Technology. Before joining SwaySure, Sakamoto was briefly senior vice president at Tsinghua Unigroup, the Beijing-based chipmaker that collapsed under a mountain of debt last year.
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"This will be my last job of my life, and I will do everything in my power to help SwaySure achieve its strategic goals," Sakamoto said in a company statement.
The managing director of SwaySure is Liu Xiaoqiang, who had operated several plants for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world's most advanced foundry for wafer fabrication, according to the Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times. Liu, whose name uses pinyin in mainland China instead of the Taiwanese version, has kept a low profile since resigning from TSMC three years ago, according to the newspaper.
China is aggressively courting semiconductor engineers from Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own. Taipei responded by threatening to prosecute anyone who helps transfer chip expertise to mainland China.
SwaySure is wholly owned by Shenzhen Major Industry Investment Group, a state-owned fund with registered capital of 5 billion yuan ($747 million), according to business registry information platform Qichacha.
Earlier this month, Shenzhen -- known as China's Silicon Valley -- announced a plan to build "an influential cluster" for the semiconductor industry by 2025, aiming to double the value of its existing chip sector within three years.
The city also pledged to cultivate at least three integrated circuit design firms with annual sales of more than 10 billion yuan each and three chip makers with annual sales of 2 billion yuan each.
Liu Xiaoqiang (left), Chief Executive of Shenzhen SwaySure Technology, and Yukio Sakamoto, newly appointed Chief Strategy Officer. Photo: Handout alt=Liu Xiaoqiang (left), Chief Executive of Shenzhen SwaySure Technology, and Yukio Sakamoto, newly appointed Chief Strategy Officer. Photo: Handouts>
In an official statement released on WeChat, SwaySure said it will work on developing new semiconductor memory materials, invest in and build wafer fabs, and design, produce and sell finished chips. The company added that it will focus on DRAMs used in data centers and smartphones, with its central R&D teams located in China and Japan.
Chinese chipmakers have had a shaky record trying to challenge the world leaders in DRAMs. Previous attempts, including one by Sakamoto in 2017, failed. In 2019, a DRAM startup in Fujian province went out of business after being hit with trade sanctions by Washington for allegedly stealing intellectual property from a Micron subsidiary in Taiwan.
Alongside SwaySure, ChangXin Memory Technologies, or CXMT, is emerging as a major domestic DRAM maker backed by government money and tech giant Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post.
Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Micron together accounted for 94 percent of the $96.1 billion DRAM market in 2021, according to a report published by IC Insights last month.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative language coverage of China and Asia in more than a century. For more SCMP stories, visit the SCMP app or the SCMP Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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