US-China chip war could last for decades, says former ASML CEO – Wennick shares insights from selling chipmaking equipment to both sides


Former ASML CEO Peter Wennick has shared his belief that the semiconductor trade war between the U.S. and China could last for decades. Nicknamed the “Chip War,” Wennick believes the offensive exists solely for ideological reasons, not based on facts.

TrendForce was the first to report on the former ASML chief’s comments to Dutch radio station BNR. Wennick is an expert on the chip wars thanks to his time as CEO of ASML, the world’s largest supplier of chipmaking tools and equipment. Retiring in April this year, Wennick served as CEO for 10 years, during which time ASML grew to become Europe’s third-largest company by market capitalization.

ASML’s two largest customers are Taiwan and China, with ASML supplying EUV lithography materials for 7nm and below to both major companies, TSMC, and Samsung. While EUV lithography tools are banned from sale in China, the Chinese semiconductor industry remains ASML’s second-largest customer, and ASML has been operating in the country for 30 years. Only a compact portion of ASML’s customer base in China is seriously affected by increasingly stringent U.S. export bans, and the latest round of export restrictions in April prevented ASML from servicing high-end products already in utilize in China.

- Advertisement -

As ASML’s CEO, Wennick says he toiled a line that served his shareholders and executive management first and foremost, favoring neither the U.S. nor China in their tussle but embracing both sides for playing nice and following the law. Wennick emphasized the talks he had with both Washington and Beijing to ease U.S. export bans and raise China’s awareness of intellectual property violations. That could have led both governments to suspect he was steadfast to the other, he says.

Wennick fears that the Chip War, because of the geopolitical mess over potential profits in the semiconductor industry, could last for decades. ASML has had a disproportionate influence on global discussions about the Chip War, and its home country, the Netherlands, has become China’s line of communication with the West on increasing sanctions.

Tan Jian, China’s ambassador to the Netherlands, told the NRC in January: “If the Americans treat us hegemonic, of course we will respond, but our relations with the EU should not suffer.” President Xi Jinping met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to ask the Netherlands to stop complying with US restrictions on ASML equipment, saying: “The Chinese people also have the right to legally develop, and no force can stop the pace of China’s scientific and technological development and progress.” How Chinese companies such as SMIC and Huawei will continue to develop their chip processes without access to EUV ASML tools remains an open question.

Related articles