Could the shortage of semiconductors see a next rebound? This is implicitly the warning sent on July 31, 2022 by the boss of TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co), during an exchange with CNN. In question ? Growing tensions between China and the United States over the Taiwan Strait and the status of the island.
The recent Chinese tensions around Taiwan stem from the tour that Nacy Pelosi, the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is currently conducting in Asia. She has already been to Singapore and is now in Malaysia. She is also due to travel to South Korea and Japan. And in this program, another stage is envisaged: Taiwan.
We have to go back to 1997 to find the visit of a president of the lower house of the American parliament to Taiwan. Since then, no official of such high rank had returned to the island, which is considered a rebel province by Beijing. Any contact between US representatives and island officials is therefore seen as interference and a violation of sovereignty.
TSMC factories that would go out of service
It is in this context that Mark Liu, the boss of Taiwan, formulated his warnings. A military escalation between Taiwan and mainland China, but also with the United States could render TSMC inoperative and, therefore, have serious repercussions internationally. The group would then no longer be able to function, in the event of an invasion for example.
TSMC is one of the most advanced semiconductor manufacturers in the world, along with South Korean Samsung and American Intel. These companies are now in the race for class 3 nanometer transistors and are capable of supplying the market with products having an etching fineness of 5 and 7 nanometers.
No one knows if Nancy Pelosi will make a stopover in Taiwan or, if this scenario arises, how China will react. We know that live ammunition exercises have been announced near the Chinese coast, facing Taiwan, and we can expect incursions by Chinese planes near Taiwanese airspace, to put pressure on the defense of the island.
Without going as far as an invasion of the island, which is a very implausible prospect today, these tensions could give rise to a military skid, because of a bad appreciation on one side or the other. It is also to prevent an incident of this nature – such as a bombing of TSMC facilities – that Mark Liu speaks.
On a technological level, Taiwan has become a strategic node in the production of semiconductors. China, like many countries, has considerable needs in this area. And local businesses have yet to achieve the same quality. The firm Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) engraves in 14 nanometers.
By thus speaking, Mark Liu also seeks to warn that a takeover by force of Taiwan would have immense local and international consequences and that China’s gains in the event of victory would not be certain. TSMC, according to Mark Liu, needs to be in constant contact with partners in Asia, Europe and the United States.
A takeover of TSMC by China would have the effect of rendering the industrial production sites inoperative. In short, ” no one can control TSMC by force “Judge Mark Liu. China wouldn’t necessarily be able to get the factories running again without these external links – but it could still get its hands on research and development.
It is not certain that the issue of supplying the world with electronic chips constitutes an audible argument for China, with a view to revising downwards its claims on Taiwan. The obsession with a single and fully reunified China remains the main compass of the power in place. What would happen to TSMC in such a case would certainly be incidental.