Pelosi Taiwan visit puts TSMC back in spotlight of U.S.-China rivalry

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Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the biggest contract chipmaker in the world. But it has been thrust in the middle of U.S.-China geopolitical tensions. logo displayed on the screen.

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U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have left Taiwan but the visit has cast a spotlight once again on the island’s critical role in the global chip supply chain and in particular on the world’s biggest chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., or TSMC.

The controversial visit, which angered Beijing, saw Pelosi meet with TSMC Chairman Mark Liu, in a sign of how critically important semiconductors are to U.S. national security and the integral role that the company plays in making the most advanced chips.

Semiconductors, which go into everything from our smartphones to cars and refrigerators, have become a key part of the U.S. and China’s rivalry over technology in the past few years. More recently, a shortage of semiconductors has spurred the U.S. to try to catch up with Asia and maintain a lead over China in the industry.

“Taiwan’s unresolved diplomatic status will remain a source of intense geopolitical uncertainty. Even Pelosi’s trip underlines how important Taiwan is for both countries,” Reema Bhattacharya, head of Asia research at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Wednesday.

“The obvious reason being its crucial strategic importance as a chip manufacturer and in the global semiconductor supply chain.”

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and meeting with TSMC show the U.S. can’t do it alone and will require collaboration with Asian companies that dominate the most cutting-edge chips.

TSMC’s crucial role

TSMC is a foundry. That means it manufactures chips that other companies design. TSMC has a long list of clients from Apple to Nvidia, some of the world’s biggest technology companies.

As the U.S. fell behind in chip manufacturing over the last 15 years or so, companies like TSMC and Samsung Electronics in South Korea, pushed ahead with cutting-edge chipmaking techniques. While they still rely on tools and technology from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, TSMC in particular, managed to cement its place as the world’s top chipmaker.

TSMC accounts for 54% of the global foundry market, according to Counterpoint Research. Taiwan as a country accounts for about two-thirds of the global foundry market alone when considering TSMC alongside other players like UMC and Vanguard. That highlights the importance of Taiwan in the world’s semiconductor market.

When you add Samsung into the mix, which has 15% of the global foundry market share, then Asia really dominates the chipmaking sphere.

That’s why Pelosi made it a point to meet with TSMC’s chairman.

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