ASML chip machines can be remotely disabled in case of China invading Taiwan

ASML chip machines can be remotely disabled in case of China invading Taiwan

ASML and Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC can remotely disable the Veldhoven-based company’s High-NA EUV machines in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

If China were to invade Taiwan, it would be possible to remotely disable its most advanced chip machines, anonymous sources tell Bloomberg. Recently, concerns about such a scenario were reportedly raised from the U.S. government to their Dutch counterparts, in which sensitive technology could fall into the hands of the Chinese.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has alluded for some time to a takeover of the island, for example, by conducting military manoeuvres very close by.

The Dutch government passed on the concerns to ASML, which then reassured that it could disable the most advanced and, therefore, most desirable equipment. At issue are the so-called High-NA EUV machines, which cost about 350 million euros each. The Dutch government has also run simulations to better assess the risks.

The kill switch is not necessarily intended only for such invasion scenarios. The functionality can also be used for maintenance and to update the machines.

Dependence on U.S. partners

ASML equipment depends on U.S. partners for some of its components, giving America a lot of control over where the scanners can go. In addition, the United States puts pressure on the Netherlands to meet certain requirements. For example, the country successfully lobbied for an early stop on the delivery of certain machines to China.

Few parties in the world can afford such high-end equipment and have the know-how to work with it. In addition to TSMC, ASML recently supplied Intel with an advanced EUV machine the size of a bus.

Tip: TSMC doesn’t need latest ASML machine yet

Ever smaller chip designs

The state-of-the-art machines should enable the development of new generations of smaller and faster chips. Thanks to the technology, significantly more transistors can be integrated on a chip. ASML currently has ten to twenty of these high technology machines on order.

High-NA EUV refers to the latest semiconductor production method using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light. It is the next step by ASML and consorts in achieving ‘continuous shrinkage,’ in which chip designs become ever smaller. Before 2015, every modern processor was built with DUV (deep ultraviolet) technology, which is now relatively obsolete.

None of the parties involved wanted to comment to Bloomberg.

Also read: China’s Xi Jinping to Dutch prime minister: ‘Export restrictions won’t stop us’