Dutch ASML-technology should not go to China, says American ambassador

Pete Hoekstra and Donald Trump, Oct 2016
Pete Hoekstra and Donald Trump, Oct 2016Photo: @petehoekstra / Twitter

The American ambassador to the Netherlands confirmed that the United States does not want Dutch chip producer ASML to share its advance chip-making machines with everyone. In an interview with Financieele Dagblad, Pete Hoekstra said that this technology "does not belong in certain places". According to the newspaper, he was referring to China.

"We have made it very clear to the Dutch: we believe that this is particularly sensitive technology that does not belong in certain places," Hoekstra said. Reuters also recently reported that the United States pressured the Dutch government into blocking the sale of an ASML chip machine to Chinese customer SMIC.

"Friends do no have to threaten each other. That's not how we treat each other," Hoekstra said to FD. "We understand that the Dutch government is between two fires, and that this is a very difficult decision. But that's just what governments have to do every day: make difficult decisions."

Earlier this week, the Chinese ambassador to the Netherlands, Xu Hong, told FD that the relationship between the Netherlands and China is at risk if the government continues to block exports for political reasons. And in an interview with AD on Thursday, Xu said that he believes the ASML chip machines should be shared. "Barriers in the field of technology are not good for technological development. All companies must cooperate and Dutch companies must want to sell their products to others," he said to the newspaper. 

The devices in the center of this international tug-of-war are so-called extreme ultraviolet (euv) machines. Hey cost 120 million euros a piece and are considered essential for the making of the most advanced chips in the coming years, according to NOS. ASML is the only producer of these machines in the world.

The euv machines are on the list of goods that fall under the Wassenaar Arrangement, a treaty that oversees the export of goods that can also be used militarily. This means that ASML needs a permit from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to export the machines. ASML currently does not have such a permit. How much this has to do with political pressure from the United States, is unclear.

The United States believes that China getting its hands on euv machines will lead to safety risks, according to Hoekstra. But what exactly these risks entail, he could not say to FD. "I am not a technology expert. Creative people can come up with interesting applications for euv (...) And the Dutch government is also very aware of the dangers."