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China buying of chipmaking gear from Singapore hits 8-month high

Applied Materials is one of the companies that make chipmaking machinery in Singapore. PHOTO: APPLIED MATERIALS

SINGAPORE - Singapore is benefiting from the US-China discord in at least one respect: semiconductor sales.

China imported US$407 million (S$548 million) worth of chipmaking machinery from Singapore in April, according to the latest Chinese customs data. It was the highest amount since August, rising 9.6 per cent from March and going against the wider trend of diminishing semiconductor exports to China. The country overall imported 27 per cent less in chipmaking gear during April than the prior year.

Singapore’s shipments to China of integrated circuit chips also increased 3.5 per cent last month compared to March. Other major suppliers from Asia all posted a drop in their chips export to the world’s second-largest economy, matching the trend with chip fabrication machinery.

Singapore aims to win its “fair share” of investments in semiconductor assembly and integrated circuit design, Mr Beh Swan Gin, chairman of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said in an interview in February. The world’s top tech and electronics companies are looking to diversify geographically - away from China and highly-concentrated chipmaking hubs like Taiwan and South Korea - opening greater opportunity for the likes of Singapore.

Applied Materials makes chipmaking machinery in Singapore, while chipmakers with local bases include Soitec, GlobalFoundries and STMicroelectronics.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co is considering building a fab to churn out 12-inch silicon wafers in Singapore, as the country offers more tax incentives and subsidies on utilities costs, according to a report out of Taiwan. Suppliers to ASML Holding are also considering building plants in Southeast Asia instead of China, Reuters reported in March.

With US-China tensions mounting, Singapore is willing to facilitate a dialogue between the two biggest economies to deescalate rhetoric and help repair their relationship. “Singapore as you know has always wanted to do business with both,” said Gan Kim Yong, Singapore minister for trade and industry, in an interview with Bloomberg TV in March. BLOOMBERG