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China ropes in new boss to head unit overseeing its war against US chips

China has assigned a new chief for a high-profile, state-backed chip investment fund amid a renewed push to pour resources into the local semiconductor industry and counter a US-led blockade of the country’s technological development.

Zhang Xin is taking the helm of the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund Co., better known as the Big Fund, according to the Chinese corporate data service provider Tianyancha. Zhang was previously an official from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, according to the news outlet Caixin.

The Big Fund was tarnished by an anti-graft probe last year, which led to the downfall of its previous chief and several other officials. Top Chinese leaders ordered investigations after they grew frustrated with a lack of breakthrough in developing semiconductors to replace foreign imports after years of ample government investments, at a time the US and its allies are tightening restrictions on China’s access to critical technologies.

The secretive Big Fund is Beijing’s primary vehicle for doling out capital to the country’s chipmakers. Founded in 2014, it drew about $45 billion in capital and backed scores of companies, including Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. and Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. The fund operated mostly behind the scenes and kept investment standards away from public view, which some analysts said undercut accountability.

Zhang replaced Ding Wenwu at the Big Fund on March 10 and replaced him as the head of China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund Phase II Co., another state-backed chip fund, a day later, according to Tianyancha.

Zhang had been a mid-ranking official at MIIT. He is listed as a first-class inspector on the website of the ministry’s planning bureau. As a contrast, Ding was once director of the ministry’s electronic information bureau, outranking Zhang.

The ministry didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment on the appointment.

The Big Fund became somewhat dormant for a few months following the anti-graft investigations, but it sprang into action earlier this year, pledging an additional investment into Yangtze Memory, China’s top memory chipmaker that has been blacklisted by the US.

Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will take forceful measures to support the development of high-end manufacturing and he overhauled China’s bureaucracy as part of a sweeping push to make the economy more self-sufficient and resilient.

However, the Biden administration is looking to put further limits on the export of semiconductor manufacturing gear to China on top of a set of broad restrictions it already announced in October, escalating rules aimed at preventing the country from developing an advanced chip industry, Bloomberg News has reported.

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