Would China invade Taiwan to capture chipmaker TSMC?
That's a genuine question a foreign affairs publication posed recently.
The answer at least for now is no. It would mean China would lose access to essential expertise while TSMC would be denied use of advanced chip manufacturing technology the problem already dogging China's semiconductor sector.
It also runs counter to China's attempts to build its own independent tech sector.
Yet the other side of this scenario is that in Chinese hands the TSMC which has more than half the world's chip foundry market would be unable to feed the global supply chain that includes Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia and most automakers.
With the cross-strait military balance shifting in China's favor, the authors and the US government urge Taiwan chip firms to explore "re-shoring leading-edge foundry work."
A new hope
In the latest reshoring sign, TSMC is weighing construction of an advanced chip-making plant in Kumamoto, western Japan, Nikkei reports.
TSCM is said to be weighing a 12-inch wafer plant sited near a Sony factory, one of its major customers, that would be able to support both 28-nanometer and 16-nanometer production.
According to Nikkei, TSMC is considering the proposal but has not yet "fully committed."
The chip foundry pioneer looks to be gradually shifting away from its heavily Taiwan-centric production.
The company operates 12 fabs on the island. Abroad, it has a 20-year-old plant in Washington state and mainland China facilities in Nanjing and Shanghai. It recently announced an upgrade of the Nanjing fab.
It has also begun work on a $12 billion facility in Arizona, with volume production of five-nanometer technology expected to start in 2024.
In April it announced it would spend $100 billion through 2023 to boost production to counter the global chip shortage.
The pandemic and the global tech war have propelled the previously little-known TSMC into the global spotlight.
Established in 1987 with backing from the Taiwan government, it is now Asia's most valuable manufacturing company, with a market cap of $560 billion.
Last year it enjoyed a 44% boost in earnings to $18.2 billion, helped by a spike in North America and Asia-Pacific sales, with total revenue up 25% to $49.7 billion.
TSMC stock was up 0.50% to NT$602 on the Taipei exchange today.
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Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading