Donald Trump says America is open for business. But the U.S. president also fears national security is under threat.
And that makes doing business with China tricky, as Owen Fairclough reports from Pennsylvania.
They’re wafer thin but yield fat returns, the scientists in Naura Akrion’s pokey laboratory devise chemical cocktails used in semiconductors.
They’re the brains that run computers.
The U.S. invented them and they’re one of its most lucrative exports – the individual code printed on silicon chips made with semiconductors is worth millions of dollars.
Tucked away in rural Pennsylvania, Akrion Systems was recently bought out by China’s Naura.
Michael Ioannou, the firm’s Chief Executive, Naura Akrion Systems, says: “In the next four or five years 70 to 80 per cent of the market growth in semiconductor equipment is going to be in China.”
But this kind of deal was the exception.
Donald Trump’s administration has rejected scores of Chinese takeovers of U.S. semiconductor manufacturers amid fears the technology will be used to threaten U.S. companies and the military.
The U.S. president told last week’s World Economic Forum his country wanted foreign investment, but there was a veiled warning for China. “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies and pervasive state-led economic planning.”
China says it’s cracking down on intellectual property theft, while Naura Akrion steers clear of the tensions that constantly threaten a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
Michael Ioannou adds, “Our equipment is by no means a threat to the national security of any country. Most of our competitors are foreign owned. Those competitors sell their equipment to everybody, whether in the U.S. or Europe or China or wherever in the world there is a semiconductor market. But politics, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t get into the mix of this.”
But if the Naura Akrion fusion is smooth, the trade dynamic can be volatile. After a surge in U.S. investment, Chinese acquisitions have dropped dramatically in the last year.