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Geopolitical Game Related to Semiconductors Between the United States and China: The Taiwanese TSMC Company Controversy

por Ericson Scorsim

ago 22, 2022

Taiwan is one of the epicenters of the geopolitical game between the United States and China. These two countries are vying for global leadership. Taiwan is home to TSMC, one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world.  Taiwan is a territory of China with autonomy and democracy.  This is why China proclaims one country, two systems.

Semiconductors are essential equipment in smartphones, cars, televisions, refrigerators, and more. Also, semiconductors serve the defense industry, used in missiles, tanks, aircraft, and command and control systems. Qualcomm and NVidia are semiconductor suppliers to the US defense industry.  

TSMC has the following market shares: North America (65%), Europe, the Middle East and Africa (6%), China (10%), and the Asia Pacific (14%). It is one of the most valuable companies in the world. It is one of Apple’s leading chip suppliers. TSMC has stopped supplying chips to the Chinese company Huawei due to pressure from the USA. The US government wanted a North American company to acquire control of TSMC. On the other hand, the Chinese government is also interested in having a Chinese company take over TSMC.

Any disruption to TSMC’s operation could threaten the United States national security, as the electronics industry depends on the Taiwanese company’s chips. The disruption of TSMC’s operations also threatens China’s national security. China has control of the rare materials used to manufacture semiconductors.  As a result, TSMC finds itself in the crossfire between the two countries. The company is also formed with the support of North American, European, and Asian companies.  In an interview with journalist Fareed Zakaria on his program GPS on CNN USA, Marc Liu, Chairman of TSMC, said that if China invades Taiwan, the plant will not be operational because its operation is interdependent with companies in the United States, Europe, and other countries. 

The United States has announced a U$50 billion incentives bill for setting up semiconductor factories in the United States, as well as for semiconductor research and development and technology workforce training. Interestingly, the US government has consistently criticized the Chinese government’s subsidy policy for its industry. However, now it is using the same tactics. TSMC plans to invest in semiconductor manufacturing in the state of Arizona.

Brazil can seize opportunities in this rearrangement of the global semiconductor supply chain. To do so, Brazil must build up its institutional capacity in industrial, science, and technology policy.

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Ericson Scorsim. Lawyer and Public Law Consultant Ph.D. in Law from the University of São Paulo (USP). Author of the book 5G Communications Geopolitical Game: United States, China, and the Impact on Brazil, self-published, 2020.