SAN FRANCISCO — A Chinese supplier of semiconductor manufacturing equipment has finalized the acquisition of Akrion Systems — a U.S. provider of wafer surface preparation tools — with the approval of the U.S. government.

Beijing-based Naura Microelectronics Equipment Co. Ltd. said this week it closed the relatively small $15 million deal to acquire Allentown, Penn.-based Akrion. The deal is believed to be the first acquisition of a U.S. semiconductor technology company to be approved the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United State (CFIUS) since Donald Trump was sworn in as U.S. president.

However, Handel Jones, founder and CEO of market research and consulting firm International Business Strategies Inc. (IBS), characterized the acquisition of a niche player in semiconductor equipment as something of an outlier, saying the approval by CFIUS is not likely indicative of a general shift in stance by Washington.

Handel Jones
Handel Jones

"I don't think it moves the needle at all," Jones said. "I think the policy [of blocking U.S. chip firms from being acquired by Chinese firms] is going to become more restrictive rather than less restrictive in the next six to 18 months."

Over the past two years, Washington has grown increasingly wary of efforts by Chinese companies to acquire U.S. and Western tech firms in generally, and semiconductor firms in particular. In one high-profile example, Trump last year blocked the proposed acquisition of Lattice Semiconductor by Canyon Bridge Capital Partners — an investment firm funded in part by China's central government — after CFIUS recommended that he do so.

CFIUS is a multi-agency committee of the U.S. government that reviews proposed acquisitions of U.S. firms by foreign entities for potential national security implications.

China has indicated that it plans to spend more than $160 billion over 10 years to beef of its domestic semiconductor industry to provide more parts to massive internal electronics markets. U.S. business advocates and politicians have expressed concern that China's ambition and policies that distort the market in its favor represents a threat to U.S. standing in the semiconductor industry.

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