Imec Erik Jan Marinissen

Erik Jan Marinissen is scientific director at Imec.

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5 April 2023

Why should the national security of the US dictate export control regulations of the Low Countries, Erik Jan Marinissen and his famous co-author wonder. There are other factors to consider.

Chances are that you, as a high-tech engineer or engineering manager, have been confronted with export control regulations in some way or another. These regulations aim to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and other national security threats by limiting the access of certain countries, entities, organizations or named individuals to these sensitive technologies or materials. Incidentally, “national” typically refers to the United States of America.

For most of us, it’s easy to understand and agree with rules that prohibit the export of arms, ammunition or military equipment to countries that are in armed conflicts, support terrorism, form a threat to our own national security and/or have other malicious intentions. However, not all export control regulations are aimed solely at making the world a more peaceful place.

Proponents of the recent export control regulations imposed by the US on China argue that they’re necessary to protect national security and prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies to a potential adversary. They want America to maintain technological leadership. Additionally, proponents argue that China’s record on intellectual property theft and industrial espionage makes it a high-risk destination for high-tech exports. They point to Chinese companies such as Huawei, which have been accused of using stolen technology to gain a competitive advantage in global markets.

Critics, on the other hand, say that regulations are hampering global technological progress and stifling innovation. They argue that they create a ‘cold tech war’ between China and the US, which isn’t only damaging bilateral relations but also undermining global cooperation and collaboration in science and technology. According to them, the ban on high-tech exports to China is hurting not only Chinese companies but also the global tech industry, which relies heavily on cross-border collaboration and open innovation to drive progress.

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Many of the world’s leading technology companies rely on global supply chains, which span multiple countries and regions. Export control regulations may also harm the interests of businesses and consumers in Western countries by limiting their access to affordable and innovative products. For example, restrictions on the export of semiconductors to China could disrupt global supply chains and increase the costs of consumer electronics, such as smartphones and laptops, which rely heavily on semiconductors. This could also lead to shortages and delays in production and delivery times.

Finally, critics argue, banning the export of certain technologies to China may incentivize Chinese firms to invest heavily in research and development to develop indigenous technologies, which could eventually compete with or even surpass Western technologies. This could result in a loss of technological leadership for Western countries and a shift in the global balance of power.

Countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium are being pressured by the US not to export high-tech knowledge, products or tools that enable them, to China. This includes the Dutch crown jewel for chip production, ASML’s EUV wafer stepper. The export of advanced immersion scanners may soon be regulated as well. Research institute Imec is also confronted with restrictions.

If you ask me, not American national but global security should be the driving force in the definition of our export control regulations. And it makes perfect sense to me that the Low Countries take their economic interests into account while defining them. Although these economic interests have been primarily focused on the US, we should slowly accept the reality that in just a few years – possibly as soon as 2035 – China will be the world’s number-one economy. History proves that (economic) superpowers come and go.