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The European Union is seeking to reduce its reliance on China for semiconductors. It hopes to find a suitable partner in Japan and is rolling out plans to boost cooperation.

This week the European Union announced that it will will deepen its ties with Japan on semiconductors. Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for industry and the Internal Market, told Reuters in Tokyo that the EU and Japan will work more closely to monitor the chip supply chain and facilitate the exchange of researchers and engineers.

Breton is visiting Japan to discuss cooperation on chips and AI with the Tokyo government and prominent Japanese companies. His Japan junket follows a tour around the US’s Silicon Valley, where he promoted the EU’s Digital Services Act and also discussed AI with prominent US tech companies.

As part of this deepening collaboration, the EU will take steps to encourage Japanese semiconductor companies operate in Europe. This encouragement will include access to subsidies, Breton explained, referring to funds made available through the European Chips Act.

Japan has its own subsidies programme

Japan has also launched a subsidy-fuelled campaign to revitalise its own chip industry. Although the country possesses a technological advantage in materials and equipment, it has lost overall global market share. Breton’s offer to help via an expansion to Europe may thus be well received.

One example of collaboration is the chip foundry venture Rapidus, which is receiving subsidies from the Japanese government, but is also working closely with Belgium-based research company imec. In fact, Breton will be meeting with Rapidus this week.

Keeping a wary eye on China

Breton’s Tokyo announcement comes as many western countries move to tighten their control over the semiconductor technology that is so vital for defence, electronic and automotive industries. The current initiative is just the latest step in a year-long campaign by the EU to reduce its dependency on China in critical sectors, including chip making.

The globe-trotting Commissioner is clear about his overall mission, however, which is to “enhance Europe’s technological sovereignty” by securing critical supply chains and, above all, avoiding any dangerous reliance on China. “We believe that it’s extremely important to secure the supply chain of semiconductors”, Breton explained.

“We made it very clear we just want to de-risk”.