Skip to main content

Malaysia Emerges as Global Semiconductor Hub Amidst US-China Trade Tensions

Published: 3.19.2024

Amidst the tumultuous backdrop of the ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China, Malaysia has emerged as an unexpected hub for the global semiconductor industry, according to a report by the Financial Times. 

Over the past 18 months, Malaysia, particularly Peninsular Malaysia and Penang, has seen a significant influx of semiconductor companies establishing operations, including industry giants like Micron, Intel, AMS Osram, Infineon, and Fengshi Metal Technology, representing a diverse array of nationalities ranging from American and European to Korean and Japanese. 

The shift towards Malaysia is attributed to companies' strategic moves to safeguard their interests amidst the geopolitical uncertainties stemming from the US-China tech war. Marcel Wismer, CEO of US parts supplier Kemikon, emphasized the broad international participation in this migration, reflecting the industry's collective response to geopolitical risks. 

David Lacey of AMS Osram highlighted that while supply chain diversification initially gained momentum due to the pandemic, geopolitical concerns have accelerated the search for alternative locations and sources. 

Malaysia's position in the semiconductor supply chain has traditionally focused on the backend processes such as packaging, assembling, and testing chips. However, the country is now trying to ascend the value chain by venturing into higher-value activities like wafer fabrication and integrated circuit design. 

This transformation has fueled a surge in foreign direct investment in Penang, reaching RM60.1 billion in 2023 alone, surpassing the cumulative total of the preceding decade. Consequently, industrial land prices have surged, underlining the region's newfound attractiveness to investors. 

Nevertheless, concerns loom over the potential ramifications of escalating US-China tensions on Malaysia's semiconductor industry. With a substantial presence of US companies in Malaysia, there's apprehension that future restrictions imposed by the US could prove counterproductive. 

Minister of Investment, Trade, and Industry, Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Aziz, underscored Malaysia's commitment to maintaining an "active neutrality" between the US and China, crucial for ensuring supply chain resiliency amidst global demand spikes. 

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim echoed the importance of elevating Malaysia's semiconductor industry into higher-value manufacturing, acknowledging past complacency and signalling a renewed focus on competitiveness. The government is actively exploring measures to bolster Malaysia's attractiveness emphasizing the critical role of the semiconductor sector in the nation's economic strategy. 

With Malaysia poised to capitalize on higher global demand for semiconductors, stakeholders are closely monitoring developments in the US-China relationship while advancing efforts to fortify Malaysia's position as a key player in the global semiconductor landscape. 

Stay up to date
Read industry news, product offers, and events.
Join email list