Taiwan’s rise to become a global leader in chip manufacturing has been driven by its efficient and skilled engineers, as well as its unique business model. The island’s success has made it a target for China, which fears being cut off from advanced chips. However, replicating Taiwan’s chip industry will not be easy, as it relies on a complex web of economic ties that the US-China rivalry is now trying to undo.
In the late 1960s, Dr Shih Chin-tay, a young engineer, left Taiwan for the US and was inspired to help his home country improve its economy. He and a group of ambitious engineers transformed Taiwan from an exporter of sugar and t-shirts into an electronics powerhouse. Today, Taiwan produces over half of the chips that power our technology, and its largest manufacturer, TSMC, is one of the world’s most valuable businesses.
Taiwan’s success in chip manufacturing is due to its mastery of volume and efficiency. The island’s manufacturers have managed to increase the number of circuits they can fit onto a single chip, resulting in higher yields. Taiwanese companies are also skilled at taking existing ideas and improving upon them through continuous tweaking and improvement.
The success of Taiwan’s chip industry is not solely due to its engineers and manufacturing capabilities. It is also a result of the island’s unique business model. TSMC, for example, only manufactures chips for others and does not design its own. This “foundry model” allowed Taiwan to become a leader in chip manufacturing by partnering with Silicon Valley start-ups that lacked the funds and resources to build their own fabrication plants.
However, Taiwan’s chip industry is now facing challenges. China is investing billions to steal Taiwan’s crown as a chip manufacturing leader or potentially take over the island. The escalating US-China rivalry is also threatening the economic ties that support Taiwan’s chip industry.
Despite these challenges, Taiwanese companies are reluctant to move chip production off the island. They see little economic advantage in doing so and resent the idea that they should weaken what they see as their “silicon shield” against Chinese aggression. The global chip supply chain is also complex and relies on collaboration and innovation from various countries and companies.
Dr Shih believes that no one country can dominate the semiconductor industry and that global collaboration is essential for innovation. He is doubtful that China can replicate the complex supply chain that exists outside of its borders. He also warns against cutting China out of the supply chain, as it could lead to conflict in Asia.
In conclusion, Taiwan’s path to chip superstardom has been driven by its skilled engineers, efficient manufacturing processes, and unique business model. Replicating Taiwan’s success will be challenging, and the island’s chip industry is now facing threats from China and the US-China rivalry. Global collaboration and appreciation for Taiwan’s efforts are crucial to preserving its chip industry and maintaining peace in the region.