ASML is a big company that makes equipment for making computer chips. The company says that a former employee in China stole information about the company’s technology.
Since then, the Dutch company has reported the breach to both Dutch and US authorities.
But the company also said, “The theft is not important to our business.”
ASML is one of the world’s most important chip-making companies. It makes the machines that make the world’s most advanced chips.
The US and China are fighting over chips, also called semiconductors, which are used to power everything from cell phones to military equipment.
ASML did not say who the former employee was or explain how export control laws may have been broken.
When the BBC asked the company what they thought, they didn’t say anything right away.
When the BBC asked the Chinese embassy in Washington for a comment, they didn’t answer right away.
ASML blames China for IP violation
ASML has in the past blamed China for stealing its intellectual property (IP).
In its annual report for 2021, the company said it knew that DongFang JingYuan Electron, a Chinese company that makes semiconductor equipment and software, “was actively marketing products in China that could violate ASML’s IP rights.”
DongFang JingYuan Electron said that the claims were false.
At the time, a Beijing-based company said the reports didn’t match the facts.
Big companies in the semiconductor business have yet to be able to export as much to China as they would like.
In October, Washington said that any company using US tools or software to make chips anywhere in the world and then selling them to China would need a license.
The US has been trying to get Japan and the Netherlands to do the same thing.
Since 2019, the Dutch government has stopped ASML from selling its most advanced lithography machines to China.
Lasers are used in lithography machines to print tiny patterns on silicon. This is part of the process of making microchips.
How China has been stealing American technology
Zheng Xiaoqing, who used to work for General Electric Power, was fired because of a picture that didn’t seem to be a big deal.
The US citizen hid confidential files he stole from his employers in the binary code of a digital photo of a sunset, which he then emailed to himself, according to an indictment from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
It was a way to hide a data file inside another file’s code. This is called “steganography.” Mr. Zheng used it more than once to steal secret documents from GE.
GE is a multinational company known for its work in healthcare, energy, and aerospace. It makes everything from airplane engines to fridges.
Zheng stole information about how gas and steam turbines are designed and made, including how turbine blades and seals are made. He sent it to his business partner in China. People thought it was worth a lot of money. But, it would help the Chinese government, businesses, and schools in the long run.
Zheng got two years in prison at the beginning of this month. It is the latest time that the US government has looked into a case like this. In November, Chinese citizen Xu Yanjun, who was said to be a professional spy, was given a 20-year sentence for plotting to steal trade secrets from GE and other US aviation and aerospace companies.
It is part of a bigger fight between the United States and China. China wants to learn more about technology to help its economy and change how things are done in the world. On the other hand, the US wants to stop a powerful rival from getting stronger.
Nick Marro of the Economist Intelligence Unit told the BBC that stealing trade secrets is appealing because it lets countries “jump frog up global value chains relatively quickly and without the costs, both in time and money, of relying completely on their capabilities.”
In London last July, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a group of business leaders and academics that China wanted to “ransack” the intellectual property of Western companies to speed up its industrial development and eventually take over key industries.
He warned that it was spying on companies everywhere, “from big cities to small towns, from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups, and on people who work on everything from aviation to AI to pharma.”
At the time, Zhao Lijian, a China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said that Mr. Wray was “smearing China” and still had a “Cold War mentality.”
Alan Kohler Jr. of the FBI said in the DOJ statement about Zheng that China was trying to steal “American ingenuity” and “topple our status” as a world leader.
Zheng was an engineer who specialized in turbine sealing technology and worked on leakage containment technologies in steam turbine engineering. The DOJ said that these seals improve the performance of turbines “by making the engine more powerful or more efficient or by making it last longer.”
Gas turbines power planes in China, so their growth depends on them.
Aerospace and aviation equipment are two of the ten areas the Chinese government wants to see grow quickly so that the country doesn’t have to rely so much on foreign technology and can eventually surpass it.
But the Chinese also spy on a wide range of other industries.