us-china tech war: washington, taipei agree to strengthen cooperation on semiconductor policy

Washington and Taipei have agreed to establish a new framework to boost investment and strengthen cooperation in key technology sectors like semiconductors, a move sure to anger Beijing, which has called on the US to end official contact with Taiwan officials.

In the first virtual meeting between US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo and Taiwan’s Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua, both sides agreed to set up a Technology Trade and Investment Collaboration (TTIC) framework, according to a readout from the US Commerce Department on Monday.

The tech-focused framework will allow both parties to “develop commercial programs and explore actions to strengthen critical supply chains”, and promote investment into the US, the statement said.

While China was not named in the statement, closer coordination between the US and Taiwan in semiconductor policy could have implications for Beijing because Chinese tech companies rely on the island’s chip makers, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), to produce advanced chips.

TSMC’s compliance with US sanctions on Huawei Technologies Co has dealt a severe blow to the latter’s smartphone business, while the Taiwan foundry’s willingness to provide supply chain data to the US government has added to unease in Beijing, with state media Xinhua calling it part of a “plot” by Washington to contain China’s semiconductor development.

In November, the US and Taiwan held their second annual economic dialogue, focusing on issues such as supply chain resilience, the digital economy, 5G network security, as well as Beijing’s alleged economic coercion. In response to the talks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the US should stop further official contact with government officials.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party regards self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province that must be taken back – by force if necessary.

The latest agreement between Washington and Taipei also comes at a time when the US is trying to strengthen its domestic chip manufacturing industry.

Generous state incentives have enticed top chip makers like TSMC and Samsung Electronics to build wafer fabrication plants on American soil. TSMC is building an advanced 5-nanometre foundry in Arizona costing US$12 billion, while Samsung last month agreed to invest in a US$17 billion chip plant in Texas.

However, a separate US$52 billion bill to provide federal funding for new semiconductor plants has stalled in Congress.

In June, the US and Taiwan discussed the topic of secure and resilient supply chains during the 11th Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meeting. Both sides expressed their support for joint work to “enhance critical supply chain security and resilience”.

us-china tech war: washington, taipei agree to strengthen cooperation on semiconductor policy

Taiwan’s Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua. Photo: Handout

Economic affairs head Wang told Taiwanese media on Tuesday that the TTIC framework would allow closer US-Taiwan cooperation in 5G, electric vehicles and semiconductor sectors – sectors that China seeks to lead as well. Wang said technology exports from Taiwan to the US were growing in the wake of the US-China trade war, including sensitive information and telecoms products, so the island’s trade surplus with the US has also risen.

“Supply chains are shifting due to the trade war, but the US will benefit from safer informatics and telecoms goods,” Wang added.

In 2020, the US was Taiwan’s second largest trading partner, while the island was No 9 on the US trade list, according to the Bureau of Foreign Trade under the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs, which indicated that the US was also a major source of technology for Taiwan.

The first meeting under TTIC is expected to be convened in the coming month.

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