HONG KONG — It is either the first step in the largest takeover of an American company by a Chinese one or a new chapter in the emerging technological cold war between the two countries.
Tsinghua Unigroup, a state-owned company that is China’s top chip maker, is preparing a $23 billion bid for Micron Technology, the United States maker of memory chips, according to a person briefed on the matter. The bid would dwarf the price of the closest such deal, the $4.7 billion paid by Shuanghui International Holdings of China to take over the American pork producer Smithfield Foods in 2013.
Yet obstacles abound to any takeover of Micron by Tsinghua Unigroup. In a report released on Tuesday, Credit Suisse said the deal was “highly unlikely to get past U.S. regulators who are increasingly viewing semiconductors as a strategic industry.” Credit Suisse said a trade war was brewing between the United States and China over the production of chips, which serve as the brains of the billions of computers, phones and other devices.
The political difficulties that could hurt any deal highlight a growing wariness by both China and the United States of technology produced by the other, and illustrate how critical to security even ordinary electronics have become.
Memory chips are where data resides in between computational tasks. While Micron is best known for bulk memory products that go into mobile phones and personal computers, the company, based in Boise, Idaho, also contributes to advanced systems for global data centers, high-performance computing and flash memory, considered essential for speedy analysis of tasks as varied as placing web ads and maintaining jet engines.
Micron sells chips with wires just 16 nanometers across, which is near the smallest width now commercially available and would probably be considered a leading-edge process technology by United States regulators. Micron is the last United States-based maker of such memory chips, with facilities in the United States and across Asia, but relatively little production in China. The loss of the ability to make advanced memory chips could even affect American security, according to some analysts.