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China’s top semiconductor company owners are poorer under US sanctions

The combined personal wealth of China’s richest semiconductor business owners shrank nearly a third this year amid the impact of US sanctions and a weak domestic economy, according to a private survey.

The combined wealth of the top 100 fell 28 per cent while the number of chip tycoons with personal net worth topping 10 billion yuan (US$1.43 billion) dropped to 17 this year from 22 last year, according to data compiled by semiconductor website Ijiwei.com.

In recent years, the Chinese chip sector has emerged as an unusual breeding ground for billionaires after Beijing showered support on the industry and as local stock markets rolled out the red carpet to attract public listings of local chip companies.

At the top of China’s chip rich list is Yu Renrong, founder of Shanghai-listed Will Semiconductor Co, who was also No 1 last year. However, his total wealth dropped by 55 per cent to 36.2 billion yuan this year.

Yu majored in wireless radio communication at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. In 2006, Yu’s company became the biggest regional integrated circuits distributor in Beijing a year later, at the age of 41, Yu founded Will Semiconductor and expanded the business into chip design, according to Chinese media reports.

Shen Hua, chairman of StarPower Semiconductor Co, and his wife, ranked second on the list with family wealth of 24 billion yuan. The company, founded in 2005, manufactures legacy node power semiconductors for use in electrical equipment and new energy vehicles.

Ranked No 3 on the rich list was ACM Research chairman Wang Hui, with 19.3 billion yuan. The company, which manufactures cleaning equipment for wafer fabs, is a major supplier to China’s top chip foundry, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, as well the country’s leading NAND flash memory maker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co, both of which are under US sanctions.

The net worth of China’s chip bosses is still well below international peers. Jensen Huang, president and chief executive of Silicon Valley-based Nvidia, is worth US$15.3 billion based on his stock ownership in the company, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index.

Besides StarPower’s Shen, some other executives in the top 10 are involved in mature technologies such as light-emitting diodes and power semiconductors, and their companies have not been targeted by US trade sanctions.

In October, the US Bureau of Industry and Security tightened sanctions on 28 Chinese entities including graphics processing unit maker Jingjia Microelectronics and supercomputer chip makers Sugon and Sunway Microelectronics. They were put under the so-called foreign direct product rule, which effectively locks them out of global supply chains by denying access to non-American suppliers that incorporate US-origin technologies in products.

Jingjia’s owner, Yu Lili, ranked 20th in terms of wealth with 9.5 billion yuan. When the company was first added to the US trade blacklist in December 2021, Jingjia said the inclusion would not have a material impact on its operations.

Chen Tianshi, founder and CEO of Cambricon Technologies, ranked 25th with 7.6 billion yuan in personal wealth. Last week, 13 Cambricon subsidiaries were added to the US blacklist. South China Morning Post

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