Accustomed to doing business behind the scenes, Taiwan’s leading chip manufacturers are finding themselves at the center of a technology war between the United States and China.
A classified ad published in February by the world’s leading chip manufacturing company, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), made industry experts smile: Asia’s most valuable company was looking for a candidate with a PhD who could analyze “geopolitical and economic changes that could affect the supply chain.” A discrete revolution for a company more at ease in the shadow of its prestigious clients, like Qualcomm or Apple, than in the center of the international political arena.
Eager to protect its trade secrets, the company rarely opens its doors to journalists, and its executives avoid interviews. In recent years, however, geopolitics has caught up. For example, on August 3, during her controversial visit to Taiwan, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, took the time to meet Mark Liu, the head of TSMC. In the days that followed, as China organized military exercises near Taiwan, analysts worried as much about global supply chains as about the fate of the 24 million residents on the island, over which China claims sovereignty.
There was a good reason: TSMC produces 90% of the world’s most advanced chips, the ones that enable the latest iPhones to be so powerful, that allow data centers to keep up with the world’s computing needs and supercomputers to solve ever more complex problems. As China steps up military and economic pressure on the island, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen dubbed TSMC the “sacred mountain protecting the nation.”