It’s been called Taiwan’s Silicon Shield, and without it much of modern life would cease.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., or TSMC, makes more than half the world’s contracted semiconductor chips and lies at the center of the technology supply chain, churning out circuitry found in iPhones, Amazon cloud computers, graphics processors that power popular video games and even military drones and fighter jets like Lockheed Martin’s F-35.
But TSMC is confronting problems it had never anticipated when a Taiwanese American engineer, who spent 25 years at Texas Instruments and is revered here like a hometown Bill Gates, founded it in the late 1980s. The company has been drawn into an increasingly bitter — and at times dangerous — rivalry between the U.S. and China that is forcing nations and corporations to choose sides in an era that is redefining the global order.
The competition for technology and geopolitical sway between the two superpowers is a threat to TSMC and this self-ruled island democracy of 24 million, which Beijing claims as a sovereign part of China and has hinted it might invade to reclaim. The company has encountered cyber attackers and had its engineers stolen away in a strategy by China to accelerate its own technological growth.
“There is a saying that if China attacks [Taiwan], TSMC is the safest place to be since what they do is so valuable,” said Kenny Yang, a former engineer at the company.