A Chip War Made in Germany? US Techno‐Dependencies, China Chokepoints, and the German Semiconductor Industry

Julian Germann, Steve Rolf, Joseph Baines and Sean Kenji Starrs (2024), Politics and Governance

As geo-economic and geopolitical rivalries intensify, the US is weaponizing its power in global semiconductor supply chains to restrict Chinese technological development. To win this chip war against China, the US must compel key foreign firms in Asia and Europe not to supply its adversary with the materials, tools, and know-how needed to make advanced semiconductors. But will these firms agree to follow the US chip embargo and avoid the lucrative Chinese market? This article examines Germany’s “China chokepoint” firms, whose identity and behavior remain critically understudied. Drawing on novel data sets and annual company reports, we show that German firms across three case studies are highly “techno-dependent” on the US. Despite this techno-dependence, German firms have so far sought to circumnavigate US export controls. This constitutes a puzzle because Germany’s semiconductor firms are no more involved in the Chinese market than are firms in Japan and South Korea—which have frequently signaled voluntary compliance or even withdrawn from China in anticipation of harsher US sanctions. To resolve this puzzle, we map out Germany’s semiconductor network and demonstrate that it is tightly articulated with Germany’s auto industry—which is in turn heavily exposed to Chinese markets. We propose that this secondary exposure, through firms’ embeddedness in Germany’s “national production regime,” encourages them to resist the US chip embargo. In this way, we contribute empirical and conceptual insights to international political economy scholarship on firms as geo-economic actors, actively engaged in a protracted and contentious policy process with US authorities.

Share this: