China Jan-April chip imports surge amid Sino-U.S trade tensions

BEIJING, May 8 (Reuters) - China has ramped up its purchases of chips since the start of the year, customs data showed on Tuesday, as the United States threatens to impose tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese goods over allegations of intellectual property theft.

China’s imports of integrated circuits in the first four months of the year rose 36.3 percent from the same period a year earlier to $94.7 billion, customs data showed. That was more than double the 2017 growth rate of 14.6 percent.

The data comes as Chinese officials plan to accelerate the development of the domestic chip market, Reuters reported this month, and as China’s state-backed semiconductor fund is near closing a 120 billion yuan ($18.98 billion) investment round for a second fund to support the domestic chip sector and help cut reliance on imports.

China is still heavily reliant on imported chips, however, despite making the sector a priority under a push by President Xi Jinping to boost China’s own high-tech sectors, from robotics to electric cars.

That reliance became apparent after the United States slapped a 7-year ban this month on sales of products – including chips – to Chinese phone maker ZTE Corp, which Washington said had violated an agreement reached after it was caught illegally shipping goods to Iran.

In 2017, China imported $11 billion of semiconductors - comprising chips, diodes and transistors - from the United States. (Reporting by Stella Qiu and Elias Glenn Editing by Jacqueline Wong)