Creative destruction 创造性破坏

2020.9


America’s war on the telecoms titan may boost Chinese technology
美国对这家电信巨头的宣战可能会提升中国科技

 

Creative destruction 创造性破坏


HUAWEI IS ON the ropes. From midnight on September 14th the Chinese technology giant was cut off from essential supplies of semiconductors. Without chips it cannot make the smartphones or mobile-network gear on which its business depends. America’s latest rules, finalised on August 17th, prohibit companies worldwide from selling chips to Huawei if they have been made with American chipmaking kit. American semiconductor companies, for which Huawei has been a lucrative customer, have implored their government to extend the deadline, as have their industry bodies.
华为已经命悬一线。9月15日零时起,这家中国科技巨头的关键半导体供应被切断。没有了芯片,华为将无法制造智能手机或移动网络设备,而这些是它的主要业务。美国于8月17日敲定了华为禁令的最终版,在全球范围内禁止企业向华为出售使用美国设备生产的芯片。华为一直是美国半导体公司的大客户,这些公司及其所在的行业组织此前都恳请美国政府延期实施禁令。
Huawei now looks likely to follow one of three paths. The first involves Washington granting licences to suppliers so that they can sell chips to the firm in a limited fashion. This would let Huawei stay in business—just about. MediaTek, a Taiwanese chipmaker that is one of its main suppliers, has petitioned America’s Department of Commerce (DoC) for such a permit. To keep Huawei’s edge blunt, suppliers keen to produce chips designed by its in-house semiconductor unit, HiSilicon, are unlikely to be issued such dispensation.
目前看来,华为很可能还剩三条路可选。第一条路是寄望华盛顿向供应商颁发许可证,让它们能在一定限制下向华为出售芯片。这样华为就可以继续经营,但也就是勉强维持。台湾芯片制造商联发科是华为的主要供应商之一,该公司已向美国商务部申请此类许可。为继续压制华为的锋芒,那些很想要生产华为旗下海思半导体公司设计的芯片的供应商不太可能获得这样的豁免。
Even a debilitated Huawei may not satisfy America. The DoC’s default setting is to deny permits. That would force the Chinese firm to take more desperate action, such as making its own chips using older technology that could be sourced from supply chains that do not include American firms. Pierre Ferragu of New Street Research, a telecoms-and-technology research firm, expects Huawei to do this within 12 months.
对美国而言,让华为萎靡不振可能还不够。美国商务部的基本姿态是不予许可。这将迫使这家中国公司更孤注一掷,例如从不包含美国公司的供应链中获取较老旧的技术来自行制造芯片。电信与科技研究公司新街研究(New Street Research)的分析师皮埃尔•费拉居(Pierre Ferragu)预计华为会在12个月内这么做。
This path has just become rockier. On September 4th Reuters reported that America’s Department of Defence has proposed putting Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s leading chipmaker, on the same blacklist as Huawei. The Pentagon alleges that SMIC works with China’s armed forces, and so poses a threat to national security. A blacklisting would destroy SMIC’s business, which relies on American machine tools. Its share price fell by almost a quarter on the news. SMIC denies having military ties and said it is in “complete shock”. The threat of such action may dissuade SMIC from teaming up with HiSilicon, as Huawei might have hoped.
这条路刚刚变得更难走了。9月4日,路透社报道称,美国国防部已提议将中国主要芯片制造商中芯国际也列入华为所在的黑名单。五角大楼指中芯国际与中国军方合作,因而对美国国家安全构成威胁。中芯国际的生产依赖美国设备,如果被列入黑名单,其业务可能被毁灭。消息传出后,中芯国际的股价下跌了近四分之一。中芯国际否认与军方有联系,并表示“对此感到震惊”。威胁采取这样的行动可能会让中芯国际退缩,不像华为可能寄望的那样与海思合作。
This leaves the third eventuality. Huawei may go bust, or be forced to sell off bits of its business. This would not happen immediately: at the end of 2019 it had cash reserves of 371bn yuan ($53bn), enough to cover operating costs for a year and a half. But if push comes to shove, it may offload HiSilicon. Huawei’s chip-design arm is one of the most advanced such outfits in the world. According to IC Insights, a firm of analysts, HiSilicon broke into the global top-ten design companies by revenue in the first half of 2020, the first Chinese firm to do so. Since it will no longer be able to design chips for its owner after September 14th, HiSilicon could profitably focus on doing so for third parties in China. That would generate a new revenue stream for Huawei. If instead Huawei were forced to shut HiSilicon, its laid-off engineers would be snapped up by chip-design teams at other Chinese technology giants like Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance. Or they could start new design firms of their own; many are said to be slipping out pre-emptively.
这样就只剩下第三条路。华为可能走向破产或被迫出售部分业务。这不会立即发生:到2019年底华为有3710亿元的现金储备,足够支撑一年半的运营。但到不得已时,它可能会剥离海思。华为的这个芯片设计部门是全球最先进的设计机构之一。据市场分析公司IC Insights的数据,按2020年上半年营收计算,海思已跻身全球十大芯片设计公司之列,创中国公司之先河。由于9月14日之后无法继续为华为设计芯片,海思可通过专注于替其他中国公司设计芯片而盈利。这将为华为带来新的收入。而假如华为被迫关掉海思,被遣散的工程师将被阿里巴巴、腾讯、字节跳动等其他中国科技巨头的芯片设计团队收入麾下。这些工程师也可能会自己创办新的设计公司,据说不少人已悄悄离职,以求占得先机。
Each scenario worries firms like Qualcomm. The big American chip-designer lists Chinese competition as a risk in its annual filings. Last year Chinese sales made up $11.6bn out of Qualcomm’s $24.3bn in revenue. A HiSilicon liberated from Huawei would threaten those sales.
两种情形都令高通这样的公司不安。这家美国大型芯片设计商在其年度报告中将中国竞争列为风险因素之一。去年,在高通243亿美元的营收中,对中国的销售贡献了116亿美元。从华为中释放出海思将对这些销售收入构成威胁。
Huawei is putting on a brave face. It says it will spend over $20bn on research and development this year, $5.8bn more than in 2019 and about as much as Amazon, a firm with double its sales. It hopes to gain new revenue streams less vulnerable to American attacks. These are unlikely to let up even if Joe Biden becomes president next year. But as Uncle Sam tightens the grip, it risks squeezing Chinese technology into a form which it no longer controls. Huawei hopes to hang on until then.
华为现在还显得泰然自若。它表示今年将在研发上投入超过200亿美元,比2019年时增加58亿美元,与亚马逊相当(亚马逊的销售额是华为的两倍)。华为希望开创不易受美国攻击的新收入来源。即使拜登于明年就任总统,对华为的打压也不大可能放松。但在山姆大叔加紧围堵之时,中国科技或许会被挤压成美国无法掌控的形态。华为希望自己能撑到那个时候。