The European Union (EU) will improve and strengthen cooperation with Japan in its chips sector, industry chief Thierry Breton said on Monday, as the bloc works towards reducing its reliance on China.
The EU and Japan will work together to monitor the chip supply chain and facilitate the exchange of researchers and engineers, Breton said. The EU would also be supportive of Japanese semiconductor companies considering operating within the bloc.
“We believe that it’s extremely important to secure the supply chain of semiconductors,” Breton said in Tokyo, where he is discussing cooperation on chips and artificial intelligence (AI) with the government and companies.
Japan is offering subsidies to revitalise its chip industry, which retains an edge in materials and equipment but has lost overall global market share.
Last week, a Japanese government-backed fund agreed to buy photoresist maker JSR Corp for $6.4 billion to drive consolidation in the industry.
Japan is also backing chip foundry venture Rapidus, whose executives are scheduled to meet Breton on Tuesday.
“I think it’s really an important initiative and going in the right direction,” he said of the foundry venture.
Plans by Rapidus to produce cutting-edge chips rely on support from Belgium-based research company IMEC and IBM.
‘De-risking’ from China
The deepening cooperation between the EU and Japan comes as the bloc has pledged to reduce its dependence on China, which aims to increase its capabilities in high-end technology such as chips.
“We made it very clear we just want to de-risk,” Breton said.
Breton also met with Japan’s Minister for Digital Affairs Taro Kono, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takeaki Matsmoto and State Minister for Economy Trade and Industry Fusae Ota, for the first EU-Japan Digital Partnership ministerial talks.
They agreed to cooperate on undersea cable connectivity, semiconductors and cyber security, and in other areas of the digital economy, they said in a joint statement.
At a subsequent news conference Breton said much of the discussion was about AI. He said a further round of talks would be in Brussels in the first half of next year.
Softer Japanese AI rules
An official close to deliberations between the two said Japan is leaning toward softer rules governing the use of AI than the European Union.
The world’s third-largest economy aims to work out an approach for AI by year-end, one that will likely be closer to the US attitude than the stringent rules championed by the EU, the official said.
A softer Japanese approach could dull EU efforts to establish its rules as a global benchmark, with requirements such as companies disclosing copyrighted material used to train AI systems that generate content like text and graphics.
The chair of the government’s AI strategy council, the University of Tokyo’s professor Yutaka Matsuo, called the EU’s rules a “little too strict,” saying it is “almost impossible” to specify copyrighted material used for deep learning.
“With the EU, the issue is less about how to promote innovation and more about making already large companies take responsibility,” said Matsuo, who also chairs the Japan Deep Learning Association and is an independent director on the board of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group.
For Japan, AI could help cope with the population decline that is causing a labour shortage. It can also stimulate demand for advanced chips.
But the country’s computing power, defined as the availability of graphics processing units (GPUs) used to train AI, is far behind that of the US, experts said.
“If you increased the GPUs in Japan by 10 times, it would probably still be less than what OpenAI has available,” Matsuo said.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena