The Biden administration has cast the United States in a global struggle with China, part of which calls for Washington’s clear support for the island. At the same time, there is an effort afoot to have the U.S. government help fund the CHIPS for America Act (passed earlier in 2021). A number of major companies are behind this effort, including Apple, Alphabet’s Google, Cisco Systems, and Verizon Communications. Such an effort will not be cheap. According to the Boston Consulting Group and Semiconductor Industry Association, an estimated more than $1 trillion over 10 years will be needed for the U.S. to achieve “complete manufacturing self-sufficiency” in chips. Moreover, the Biden administration has signaled it will continue Trump’s efforts to restrict China’s access to cutting-edge American technology. That includes Taiwan’s foundries.
China has no intention of being left behind or frozen out of the high-end chip market. While the communist country already has some chip manufacturers, President Xi Jinping has pledged to invest $1.4 trillion through 2025 in key technologies including chips. Of course, another way of leveling the playing field in chips would be to invade Taiwan.
Looking ahead, we do not see a Chinese invasion imminent, but Taiwan is already reprising its Cold War role as a geopolitical flashpoint between the world’s two superpowers. The future of Taiwan’s chip industry therefore will increasingly be seen as the role it will play in geopolitics built up around supply chains and geo-economic advantage. Taiwan remains a major prize for the Chinese Communist Party for historical and strategic reasons. This will be a major test for the United States in terms of either standing by its friends and keeping the Taiwanese chip industry as a key part of its supply chains or eventually seeking to follow the appeasement of China. Everyone knows how appeasement eventually turns out.
Scott B. MacDonald is chief economist for Smith’s Research and Gradings.