British PM in U-turn over semiconductor deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday his national security adviser would review the takeover of the nation’s biggest semiconductor maker by a Chinese-owned company, in an apparent policy reversal on the issue.

Netherlands-based Nexperia, which is owned by China’s smartphone giant Wingtech, completed the purchase of Wales-based Newport Wafer Fab for an undisclosed amount earlier this week.

However, the deal for a top UK industrial asset has sparked widespread outcry amid increasingly strained relations between London and Beijing and growing scrutiny of Chinese companies’ overseas investments.

It has also attracted scepticism due to a global shortage in semiconductors.

On Tuesday, Johnson’s spokesman told reporters the government had decided it would not be “appropriate to intervene at this time”.

But a day later, during questions from a panel of lawmakers, Johnson himself said the sale would now be probed.

“I have asked the national security adviser to look at it,” he told MPs.

“We have to judge whether the stuff that they are making is of real intellectual property value and interest to China, and whether there are real security implications.”

Nexperia, which completed the deal on Monday, did not reveal any financial details including the price.

US television channel CNBC has reported Nexperia paid 63 million pounds (HK$675 million).

The transaction has reignited debate over China’s push into strategically important sectors in countries around the world, including Western nations with which it has rising frictions.

London last year banned Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from involvement in the roll-out of Britain’s superfast 5G broadband network, after US concerns about spying.

Branding Huawei a security threat, Washington has barred the company from the huge American market, cut it off from global supply chains, and pressured allies to ban or remove Huawei gear from their national telecoms systems.

The purchase also comes amid a chronic global shortage of computer chips, which are vital for manufacturing but experienced a pandemic-fuelled surge in demand for home electronic devices. (AFP)