三星闪存厂选址中国,为了廉价劳工还是技术转移?

上网时间: 2011年12月14日? 作者:Bolaji Ojo? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】

关键字:西方市场? 制程技术转移? 三星中国NAND闪存厂?

Technology Transfer Conundrum

Bolaji Ojo

Whether you are based in the West, the East, or a developing nation outside these two groups, the subject of China and its relationship with trading partners will dominate discussions and policy decisions for the next several years and, I dare say, decades.

Further, whether you run a mom-and-pop retail outlet in the middle of Kansas, a machine retooling business in the Adirondacks, or supply enclosures for major vendors like Foxconn Electronics Inc. from somewhere outside Hong Kong, China's relationship with its Western trading partners should be a priority for you and your employees. (See: The Real Truth About 'Made in China'.)

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) brought this issue back to the front burner when it announced plans to set up a flash memory manufacturing plant in China. Ordinarily, this would be a simple business announcement with no additional fanfare, but in this case, Samsung needs government approval.

If it wanted to establish this plant in Oregon or somewhere outside London, the plan wouldn't merit a second thought. However, this announcement is going to set some sparks flying, because of concerns about the transfer of dual-use products and manufacturing processes.

For those who still cling to the idea that companies move production plants to China to lower manufacturing costs, the Samsung proposal offers a distinctly different conclusion. (See: Things Don't Get Made in China Simply Because of Cheap Labor and Why We Manufacture in China.)

A semiconductor plant requires a certain level of expertise and running costs that won't change much regardless of location. There would, of course, be some savings, but this won't amount to much.

The plan "is a big surprise given operating a memory chip fab in China does not warrant, in our view, any significant cost advantage (just a little cost savings vs Korean fabs)," Simon Dong-je Woo of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. writes in a research report.

What are the incentives for Samsung to move a major plant to China? Woo writes that the company wants a bigger piece of the globe's largest PC market, and that growing faster in that market involves having a local manufacturing presence, even for products as politically sensitive as semiconductors:

It appears Samsung expects the new fab to offer new business opportunities (NAND chip supply to local OEMs) and to lower geopolitical risks (diversification of chip production base). Further, we expect some incentives from the China government (cheaper land cost vs Korea).

That explains it all, but numerous kinks could screw up Samsung's business plans. It just happens that Western governments (along with Korea's) adamantly oppose the transfer of leading-edge manufacturing technology to China, because it could be used to advance the country's military objectives. It's a valid fear. If war were to break out between China and Korea (over disputed islands, for instance), local fabricators would be diverted to support military production.

Samsung will probably get the approval it needs to proceed with the flash memory plant. It wouldn't have announced this venture without discussing it with Korean and Western officials. The United States would have to give its consent. Otherwise, Samsung could run into major problems. My conclusion is that the new plant will get approved, because Western nations probably do not consider the technology at stake so cutting-edge.

However, Samsung's decision has moved the needle as to what can be located in China. As the country gets further integrated into the global economy, it will become harder for nations to withhold approval of major technology transfers. I'm not a foreign policy expert, so I won't debate here the advantages and disadvantages of such a development, but suffice it to say that this will dominate discussions and impact enterprise operations.

Personally, I believe high-end, dual-use technology should never be easily transferred, notwithstanding the relationship between the nation that developed it and the ones seeking to receive it. Understandably, the controversy deepens, tensions rise, and the stakes go up when distrust dominates the relationship.

That's where China finds itself today, and in many ways, it is up to the Chinese to prove they can be trusted. The trajectory of manufacturing outsourcing and transfer to China is fairly predictable. It will lead to increased penetration into the design and supply chains by Chinese enterprises. This is inevitable, because China is not going to settle for simply being everyone's assembler. In the high-tech sector, the country's political leaders are asking local companies to aim higher and become system integrators, designers, etc. They want the best jobs, too.

Withholding the endorsement of technology transfers will complicate relations between China and the West, but a line must be drawn somewhere. Three other recent posts show this is a complex problem. The first calls China the real threat to the global economy. The second, from China Daily, discusses the country's need for "arduous efforts" to become a trading power. The third says General Motors can increase its share of the Chinese automotive market through attrition.

The future of East-West engagement lies somewhere along the three axes of profit, hope, and fear.

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