This article was updated on 22 March 2010.
17 March—AU Optronics Corp. (AUO), Taiwan’s largest manufacturer of thin-film transistor liquid crystal display panels (TFT-LCD), submitted an application on 15 March to the government confirming its plan to build a 7.5-generation plant in eastern China. It thus became the first Taiwanese LCD maker to take advantage of its own country’s lifting of the ban on building TFT-LCD fabs in China.
The company plans to spend US $1.2 billion initially; the total investment will be about $3 billion. It will begin by processing 60 000 glass substrates a month, with capacity eventually topping out above 90 000 subtrates per month.
A 7.5-gen fab turns out a glass substrate 1950 x 2250 millimeters—big enough for manufacturers to cut it up into eight 42-inch panels, six 46-inch panels, or three 55-inch panels. These specifications fit the Chinese market, which consistently favors screens measuring 42 inches and up.
In terms of revenue, AUO is the world’s third-largest flat-panel maker after Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Display Co., both of Korea. Taiwan’s decision to ease restrictions on its own companies’ investments in China was a defensive response to the aggressiveness of competitors in China in 2009.
The Chinese government in late 2008 expanded its practice of offering subsidies to rural households that purchase electrical appliances, not only to stimulate rural consumption but also to narrow the digital divide between urban and rural regions. To exploit demand for flat-screen televisions above 40 inches in size, Samsung announced in October 2009 that it will establish a joint venture to build a 7.5-gen LCD panel plant in Jiangsu province, in eastern China—an investment of about $2.25 billion. The decision actually preceded the Korean government’s decision in December 2009 that allowed Samsung and LG Display to establish TFT-LCD fabs in China.
In August 2009, Japan’s Sharp Corp., which has been doing business in China for years, agreed with both Nanjing Municipal Government of Jiangsu province and Nanjing China Electronics Panda Group Corp. to sell used 6th-generation equipment and also to help establish an 8th-generation LCD panel production line.
The original ban is a leftover from the days of political hostility between China and Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War. The freeze began to thaw in 1987. Still, Taiwan’s restrictions on China-bound investments continued in various forms under the ”No haste, be patient” policy, to prevent overdependence on China. Even in 2002, when Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organization triggered calls for a wider opening of bilateral investment, the country prohibited certain industries from making investments in China in order to prevent China from getting its hands on Taiwan’s intellectual property.
Then, on 20 February of this year, Taiwan lifted the ban on building TFT-LCD and semiconductor fabs in China, enabling Taiwanese panel makers to invest in gen-6 and higher fabs in China—as long as no more than three fabs are involved. Most important, the technology to be adopted in China must be at least one generation behind the most up-to-date one in Taiwan. In addition, any Taiwanese firm filing to invest in China must also produce a plan for new investment in Taiwan. Furthermore, to maintain corporate independence, Taiwanese firms are not allowed to merge with or buy shares in Chinese companies. However, entering into joint ventures with Chinese companies or venture capital firms is acceptable.