back to article TSMC and China: Mutually assured destruction now measured in nanometers, not megatons

Last year, the US Army War College published a paper suggesting that the Taiwanese government might give TSMC's chip fabs their own self-destruct systems in case China invaded. At the time, China said it had no interest in TSMC, thus defusing the Strangelove scenario. Now, the Middle Kingdom's talking about changing its mind. It …

  1. OhForF' Silver badge

    Cost optimization

    Not all that long ago buyers of electronic components insisted on a 2nd source for the parts to be available and although had enough stock on hands to keep going for a while when a shipment did not arrive.

    Since then the powers that be seem to have decided cost optimzation is way more important than resilience as things like factories taken out by fire/earthquakes/tsunami or supply chains being disrupted by things like covid-lockdowns/wars/brexit are not happening frequently enough to figure in.

    It would be interesting to see their evaulation of these risks before taking the cost optmiaztion so far that the supply chains barely worked in normal times and compare them to the actual figures nowaday.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Cost optimization

      Indeed, "2nd source" is how AMD got started as an x86 manufacturer.

    2. Tams

      Re: Cost optimization

      JIT operations don't allow for that, and in some industries to not have been using JIT (well, until the pandemic) might even have made your business not viable financially.

  2. Duncan Macdonald

    There are multiple critical points of failure

    Some of the known critical points

    TSMC - obvious - over 50% of high performance IC production

    AMSL - producer of all the EUV machines and most of the DUV machines

    ZEISS - makes the optical components (lenses and mirrors) for AMSL

    AGC Inc and Hoya Corp - these make the blank photomasks

    multiple companies producing critical ultra pure chemicals (with impurities in the parts per trillion range) and photoresists

  3. Flywheel

    Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

    It'll be the usual Tory mantra - "no problem, we'll just buy it from someone else".

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

      "no problem, we'll just buy it from someone else [the minister's mate down the pub]".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

        who will buy it from someone else and slap a huge mate's markup on it ....

        1. Tams

          Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

          'Don't worry, it's not our money'.

          *Evil laughter*

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

      Since the government and its supporters tend to spend a lot of time glorifying the good old days then maybe its time to resurrect valve production. I think Mullard had a big factory in Blackburn so resurrecting manufacturing would not only help the UK to have home grown sources of key electronic components but it would also help with the government's aim of 'leveling up'.

      1. The man with a spanner

        Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

        Don't be daft!

        Nobody in goverment has any idea whatsoever where Blackburn is. Haven't they got a football team or something?

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

          Don't forget the Blackburn Buccaneer.

        2. jmch Silver badge

          Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

          "Haven't they got a football team or something?"

          Didn't they outsource that to India?

    3. Chris Roberts

      Re: Britain, alas, seems destined once again to blithely assume that it'll all work out in the end

      The problem is Labour would build a nationalised plant that would produce out of date and low quality parts at high cost, should it be actually needed the worker would go on strike for more pay.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "If the Chinese government thinks it could take TSMC by force – it can't, no matter what."

    No matter what? What kind of fish bowl do you have to live in to believe that?

    Chinese officer: "Hand over everything or we kill your family."

    Taiwanese: "Kill us all!"

    Later on, China, Korea and the USA determine what to do with the new "Industrial Republic of China", formerly Taiwan.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Sure....

      Vary likely China would install their own military manglement and sabotage the plant much more effectively. All the workers have to do is follow the instructions exactly.

    2. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Sure....

      Did you stop reading at that point? Did you not see the example provided with the Philip's factory in the Netherlands?

      You can force people back to the production line, but what you cant do as a soldier is know if they are doing their job properly. Perhaps, China could ship out a whole bunch of their own engineers to oversee things, but a) they probably dont have any spare to send over (especially those with the exact knowledge needed, not without basically shutting down their existing production facilities), b) they would need to get up to speed on the exact equipment in use at TSMC, which means relying on the Taiwanese people already working there to train them (so can you be sure their being trained properly), c) they cannot know every single corner of the facility that can be f%&ked with by people with a clue and a very good reason to f%&k with production.

      The author is absolutely correct in his analysis.

    3. Duncan Macdonald

      Re: Sure....

      If China takes Taiwan it would still have a major problem - TSMC depends on ASML (Netherlands) who themselves depend on ZEISS (Germany). Without replacement parts from those companies, TSMC woud soon grind to a halt.

      TSMC also depends on ultra pure chemical suppliers many of which are not on Taiwan

    4. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Sure....

      The Chinese wouldn't have to take over TSMC to shut it down. State of the art semiconductor fabrication is very close to Black Magic and so it needs a large number of things to go right for it to work. China is in a position to interfere with any one of them.

      The whole reason for TSMC's existence is that its close to China and other Asian manufacturing hubs. Its an important piece of an international manufacturing puzzle. We started messing with that puzzle from a hemisphere away, interfering without being able to contribute alternative solutions, and we're reaping the consequences. China won't take over TSMC, it will render it irrelevant -- a far bigger danger for us and a far more likely scenario.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Sure....

        "The Chinese wouldn't have to take over TSMC to shut it down."

        No, but they wouldn't want it shut down, they need the chips made there as much as anyone else does

    5. Tams

      Re: Sure....

      The Taiwanese will have rendered the fabs useless by that point.

      And even with opposition to their destruction, it would likely end up Azovstal like. Some diehard Taiwanese fighters would likely hole up there and China would blow the place to smithereens (while likely not affecting the defenders much at all).

  5. Roger Greenwood

    That story of the EF50 and the Pye strip is great, thanks for the link.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      A great diversion. I'd never realised that Phillips owned Mullard or their role in developing the pentode. Thinking about the "Phillips" TV I realised it's a story comparable to HP of the once mighty losing its way.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I think the the fall of Rome is a contender for the title of last multi-regional collapse. Nevertheless the Bronze Age collapse does seem to have been very widespread. It seems from DNA evidence that the Bronze Age population of the UK was replaced by the Iron Age just as the Mesolithic was replaced by the Neolithic.

    1. Dr_N

      These were not hard transitions. Migration, trade and spread of idea and technology are not easily delineated by modern definitions of these era.

      The British Isles weren't even isles for the greater part of the Mesolithic period.

      [Speaking as a student of Archaeology. (A/O level)]

      1. Killfalcon Silver badge

        Yeah - "Iron Age" and "Bronze Age" haven't been used in serious scholarship for decades. They are, at best, useful shorthand for broad-stroke summaries of multi-century periods.

        1. Dr_N

          And they sound cool.

          1. lglethal Silver badge

            Bring on the Titanium Age! Just so long as I dont have to live through the start of the Uranium Age...

            1. Killfalcon Silver badge

              There's an argument we're already there, or at least the Strontium Age - nuclear testing means that the 20h century is now very distinctly visible in any geological strata being laid down right now, thanks to all the strontium produced in the explosions.

              1. Dr_N

                Strontium Age? Because we're all treated like 'Dogs?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Ah. Someone from the TWAI* school of archaeology.

        Back in the '60s there was this growing tendency to decry any explanation of a cultural change that involved an invasion. Undoubtedly the explanation was used too freely and led to ideas such as deriving Irish passage graves from the Pyramids (C14 dating scotched that one by reversing the chronology). I think there was also a psychological element - the main proponents were people who'd been threatened with, experienced or taken part in invasions during WWII and now had antipathy to them. Personally I was never convinced that, for example, all those bronze swords were simply distributed by peace-loving arms salesmen who'd never be tempted to use their own products.

        The argument seemed to be that you couldn't invoke an invasion without there being a contemporary written account. That worried me on the basis that by definition there couldn't have been a prehistoric invasion anywhere because pre-historic periods are those with no written history. Since we have had a written record we have had multiple invasions in all direction between Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland (or Pictlland if you prefer**) and been threatened with invasion by or invaded most parts of continental Europe within reach to say nothing of colonising*** numerous other parts of the world. Given that record the idea of a long prehistoric period of peaceful acculturation with no invasions seemed quite incredible. Yet the notion stuck.

        More recently, however, DNA has started to reveal that we did have a series of incursions. One, which I found particularly interesting, was between Bronze Age and Iron Age. Looking at my own and other sites in N Ireland there was evidence of particularly intense forest clearance - tree pollen levels comparable with modern times - which I rather thought matched George Eogan's Later Bronze Age phases followed up by very complete regeneration for several centuries. There was then gradual clearance/reoccupation in the Iron age with a very distinct break between. The dendrochronologists backed up the intense LBA clearance - sub-fossil oak of that period becomes very scarce.

        OK I should have said the area currently occupied by the UK and the Republic of Ireland. You should note, however, that "British Isles" is terminology you introduced.

        * My own abbreviation for for There Wasn't An Invasion.

        ** The Scots, having come from Ireland.

        *** As have several other European countries

        1. TimMaher Silver badge

          But... but...

          ... What about the Jutes? We need a provisional wing of the JLA (Jute Liberation Army).

          Mine’s the one with a copy of “1066 and all that” in the pocket.

          1. Fr. Ted Crilly Bronze badge

            Re: But... but...

            and the PFJL...

            1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

              Re: PFJL...

              Fuuuuuuuck off! We're the JPF!

              1. Dinanziame Silver badge

                Re: PFJL...


  7. PhilipN Silver badge

    When did Scorched Earth ever work?

    (Except in Russia- twice)

    And why would Taiwan destroy its ONLY leverage?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: When did Scorched Earth ever work?

      Scorched Earth worked very successfully against the French at the Lines of Torres Vedras in 1810, because the French Army of the time didn't bring any food with them, relying on stealing it from the locals.

      Spotting the obvious issue with this approach, Wellington built a set of defensive lines that would force the French to lay siege to them and then systematically evacuated everybody (and their food) to behind the lines. This resulted in ~25k French soldiers starving to death, and the 30k starving survivors that staggered back to Spain were finished as an Army, which ultimately let Wellington push them back out of Spain into France.

      The Emperor Alexander copied Wellingtons basic strategy on a much larger scale, with the addition of using profusive numbers of Russian cavalry to prevent small detachments from spreading out in combination with major battles. It didn't quite go to plan; the French took Moscow expecting the Russians to surrender, and were a bit surprised when the Russians simply pulled back and waited for them to starve. The French lost about half a millionish men; nobody really knows how many died. (including the French, as their record keeping was on a par with their logistics)

      Amusingly, when the British army invaded France the (French) locals hid their food from their own army who would take it without compensation, and then sold it to the British army. See the moral of the story? Relying upon theft can end up going very badly. See Ukraine and Russia's invasion thereof.

      Taiwan being ready to blow it's own fabs to bits has a deterrent effect, in that if China's only reason for invading is to invade and steal a small number of high value things, then having a plan for blowing the high value things to bits would remove any benefit to be had from invading, and so might have more of a military benefit to preventing an invasion than the potential number of people that might be killed. (Since the Chinese leaders may do a Putin, and not care about how many bodies the invasion generates if they win)

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: When did Scorched Earth ever work?

        The thing is if China invaded and the fabs destroyed themselves then China is left with half a billion unemployed. Not good for a continuity government.

      2. PhilipN Silver badge

        "if China's only reason for invading ..."

        Respectfully suggest you check China's policy towards Taiwan, consistent since 1949 (in fact since the Ching Dynasty). Nothing to do with "high value things".

    2. Tams

      Re: When did Scorched Earth ever work?

      Because if they end up getting invaded (and it looks likely that the PRC would succeed), then their leverage clearly won't have been enough. So of course they'd destroy what couldn't be taken at that point.

    3. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: When did Scorched Earth ever work?

      And why would Taiwan destroy its ONLY leverage?

      It's a threat. If they get invaded, they'll destroy the valuable factories needed by everybody, including the invaders. Stay away or your industry gets it.

  8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    What was that ?

    "with no detectable economic or political strategy for attracting fabs to its green and pleasant cloudy and rain-soaked land"


    1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

      Re: What was that ?

      Being cloudy and rain soaked is why it's green

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: What was that ?

        But makes it a little less pleasant except in the breaks between the rain.

      2. Stork Silver badge

        Re: What was that ?

        As a friend of mine commented when visiting Wales: I believe the green is algae, not grass.

    2. PBealo

      Re: What was that ?

      A) I'm not sure TSMC leading edge fabs are not already mined in some manner. I know upper mgmt folks in another Taiwan foundry using older processes and when asked they say that their fabs aren't mined, but point out China already builds their level of technology so doing so is unnecessary.

      B) I began selling fab equipment to China as soon as the US Govt allowed it in the mid 80's. China's issue at that time was not their researchers but their infrastructure and access to Western high tech materials. Even then they had VERY smart people, I once saw one of their e-beam litho systems that ran off an original IBM PC with interface electronics at the 7400 chip series or below. It worked but was VERY slow. Smart people designed it. Now they have western educated engineers and scientists. In the 80's their western educated scientists attended college in the 30's.

      C) Even if not mined, coordinated missile strikes from Korea, Japan and US fleet(s) would level them. Refer to 1st Baghdad raid of the Gulf War, but going after just 3 or 4 factories.

      D) Yes, it is necessary to plan for this. We cannot allow PRC to control all the highest tech fabs in the world...

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    FT link is paywalled

    Besides, I'd think you'd link to your own article:

    Intel to get $7.3b for Germany fab site as TSMC dismisses Europe plans

  10. Zolko Silver badge

    Taiwan without TSMC

    I think that you didn't think that one through: imagine that China does invade Taiwan, and Taiwan does indeed destroy TSMC fabs. Who would loose more: China or USA ?

    For the USA, Taiwan's only asset is TSMC, and most of the US industry is built on it : without TSMC, the worldwide IT industry takes a hit, and that is the US most – may-be only – valuable production. People will use older computer kit, no more shiny iStuff, no more ressource-hog clouds, and finally no more mass surveillance by the NSA (remember Edward Snowden ?)

    For China, Taiwan is a break-away territory, with or without TSMC. If they get Taiwan without TSMC, they still have their own semiconductor factories, but not in the 5nm range, only 20nm. Tough, but not Earth-shattering, and the same for the rest of the world also (except Samsung, in Korea).

    Which means that the threat by Taiwan to self-destruct is as efficient as for Europe to sanction their supplier of gas and oil : a bad joke.

    1. TheMeerkat

      Re: Taiwan without TSMC

      Serbian supporting Putin’s regime?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Taiwan without TSMC

      1. TSMC are already building fabs outside of Taiwan.

      As an example, the 5nm plant in Arizona is due to go online in 2024.

      2. The equipment that TSMC use for things like 3nm, 5nm etc are not produced by them, they come from outside of Taiwan, such as companies in the Netherlands and Germany.

      So TSMC can just buy more of this, to build new fabs.

      3. If it was clear that China was going to, or had started invading, there's a good chance all the top engineers and scientists at TSMC would magically vanish from Taiwan, turning up in other friendly nations, such as the USA.

      So whilst the loss of the fabs in Taiwan would be a hit, it would only be a temporary one, and the longer China waits, the less impact this would have on the world, as other fabs come on line outside of China's reach.

      So if we assumed China did invade, and the Taiwan plants were destroyed, yes that would impact production of the high end chips for a little while, but within 2-3 years we'd be back to normal levels, and all that production would be outside of China's influence.

      End result, 3 years or so after the invasion of Taiwan, China still doesn't have advance chips, the rest of the world carries on as normal after a bit of an slump for a year or two with the most advance chips. Chinas economy has crashed, due to the majority of the world imposing massive sanctions on them due to the invasion 3 years earlier.

      1. Zolko Silver badge

        Re: Taiwan without TSMC

        Chinas economy has crashed, due to the majority of the world imposing massive sanctions on them

        This is irony, right ?

        Serbian supporting Putin’s regime ?

        no, chess player. Aren't you tired of these ridiculous "Good morning to St Petersbourg " ? Just because you're clueless doesn't mean that others can't understand more complex interactions.

        China is going to invade Taiwan and they don't give a damn sh***t about TSMC. There, got-it ? Now, make contingency plans for how to deal with that instead of wishful thinking.

  11. Missing Semicolon Silver badge


    Will be well down the list.

    What if you could make a car work with little more than a capacitor, and a few diodes? You'd have to use combustible fuel, of course, (no power semiconductors) so you would have to have a fully mechanical fuel-air vapouriser.....

    1. Zolko Silver badge

      Re: Vehicles

      a fully mechanical fuel-air vapouriser

      I'm not sure you need 5nm chips for a fuel injector. My 20 year old 300 000km car has injectors ... I rather suspect that the chip shortages are because of fancy semi-useless functionality (like car-play, navi, proximity radar, on-board entertainment system ...)

      So I don't think that we'll need to go back to carburetors if China invades Taiwan

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Vehicles

        My 70 year old tractor has fuel injectors.

  12. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    Hcak the hackable.

    No need to coerce the workforce. Just invade the residential districts where their families live.

    1. Tams

      Re: Hcak the hackable.

      If they invade, I hope they choose you as their military planner.

  13. Ian 55

    Destroyer, not battleship

    It was a lot easier and safer to use a destroyer to ship the valuable Dutch people (and the prime minister who later suggested a Vichy-style accommodation with the Nazis before being fired) than a battleship.

    The Dutch royal family left on another one.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We saw a small scale version of this back in 2011 when the Renesas Naka factory got knocked out by the Great East Japan Earthquake:

    The automotive industry collectively realised that they had a single source dependency on one factory for specialist microcontrollers.

    They got some of the fab lines back up and running in a month (main ones took 3 months), with an absolutely spectacular effort, to quote:

    "Groundswell of support Renesas received from its own employees, customers, suppliers, contractors and even competitors...the goal was achieved through extraordinary measures by suppliers, contractors – and even sometimes competitors who made no bones about diverting necessary equipment deliveries to Renesas.

    At the peak of its recovery efforts in April, 2,500 people were working shifts around the clock, 24/7, all running a thousand different tasks in parallel"

    All of the Japanese auto makers gave over thousands of personnel to support the cleanup efforts.

    It disrupted the automotive supply chain for at least the next 6 months.

    That was one factory, running a very old process node (for highly customised systems) brought back online with immense effort and commitment.

    Now multiply that at least 100 fold...

  15. Dwarf

    Real TCO / impact on GDP

    I wonder what the true cost saving has been for cheap outsourcing to China and India for key services that the world relies on, when the timeframe of measurement is from the point it went there, to past the point where the facility is no longer on-line and available to anyone and dependant industries go off-line.

    It looks like a more grown up diverse supply chain needs to be in place so that we still have manufacturing facilities, even if some dictator of the day decides to do something silly half way around the planet, since the ripples are always felt across the planet.

    We've already seen the following and the list will only get longer over time :

    The impact of COVID on silicon manufacturing and loads of related technologies from consumer goods to cars and beyond.

    CO2 dry up due to COVID and the impact on being able to process pigs into foodstuffs and then pack those foodstuffs. That also impacted beer.

    Food supply / fuel supply because of what's going in in Ukraine.

    Baby milk issues in America due to one plant closing down due to contamination.

    I hope that governments are already starting to think about resilience, blast radiuses and dependency trees like we would in IT related programmes, but focused around key manufacturing, food, fuel and related supply lines at a global level.

    1. Duncan Macdonald

      Re: Real TCO / impact on GDP

      Most politicians don't think about anything beyond the next election.

      Long term effective government planning is not something that democracies do well. (Some agencies of democratic governments can do effective long term planning when they are not too badly disrupted by their politicians.)

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Real TCO / impact on GDP

      "I hope that governments are already starting to think about resilience, blast radiuses and dependency trees like we would in IT related programmes, but focused around key manufacturing, food, fuel and related supply lines at a global level."

      Depends what you mean by "governments". I wouldn't be surprised if civil servants around the world had all this stuff prepared, and politicians didn't have a clue they even existed

  16. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Even though TSMC have agreed to open a 5nm US fab, TSMC keep their best process eg 3nm in the Taiwan fabs which i am sure is a strategy than they have agreed with the Taiwan government to protect against Chinese invasion, and also as a way to stop their best people getting lured away to other competitors labs outside of Taiwan.

  17. Happytodiscuss

    The problem remains, a broken contract

    The PRC have spoken confidentially with the US requesting that the US recognize the Taiwan Straights by not sailing through the straights, effectively delivering up that body to becoming PRC waters. That's the quandry and its a no win one for anyone not living in PRC or subject to their sway.

    Not travelling through the Taiwan Straights without PRC permissions seems like a simple thing not to do to avoid a conflict today. I always believed that CN would not attempt their re-uniting with Taiwan until the technology companies there, like TSMC, had shipped their 'technology' to the US or beyond.

    That chipmaking production is so easily disrupted is reassuring. TSMC is only now ready to manufacture 6nm after having tested their manufacturing process for two years. Whether or not 6 nm is actually the 4 nm referred to in this article, the invention appears to be the easy part, and that manufacturing is extremely difficult to perfect in addition to being sensitive to very small control process deficiencies is also reassuring and creates a peril.

    There is a time bridge that needs to be accommodated in the hawkish scenario, in order for everyone outside of China and their sphere, not to be taken backwards to sometime before the day CN crosses the straight chip wise. The article convinces me that CN will also suffer the same outcome as the ROW in this scenario.

    The Dr. Strangelove -MAD scenario will become more likely the more social unrest occurs in CN. Honestly its a dilemma.

    Leading up to the leadership conference in September in CN, it appears as if there are some in the PRC that are speaking real politick, and hence the confidential warning. While concealed from view, Xi's ambitions are not a done deal to accomplish.

    Someone should develop a game based upon the stuff going on today, and get some new generation thought posted as game results, to help.

  18. nmcalba

    EF50 & British Radar

    A couple of issues regarding the Phillips section of the story. I don't believe it was the Chain Home radar system that the EF50 was needed for.

    Instead it was the development of the early airborne radar systems for night fighters that required the EF50. You can't put a 60m antenna on an aircraft so the move to a much smaller physical size for airborne radar needed a frequency of around 200Mhz (Chain Home worked on 20-50 Mhz). It was also then used on the later AMES Type 2 radar that filled in the gaps between the main Chain Home stations and the subsequent GCI radar systems that largely replaced Chain Home.

    Also the board of Phillips was evacuated (along with a big bag of diamonds) on board HMS Windsor, which was an 1100t W Class destroyer - definitely not a battleship. The consignment of 25,000 completed EF50 tubes along with components and toolling equipment travelled more prosaically on a cross channel ferry.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: EF50 & British Radar

      Yes it's all in Ronald's story (link in article) and much more. Fascinating bit of history. Pint for Ronald.

  19. EricB123 Bronze badge

    Brilliant Journalism

    British Journalism 1

    American Journalism 0

  20. Spaller

    Chinese economist trained by the Soviet Union

    That Chinese economist has no clue how a fab works. Software I've written and owned by an American company is required to run the optical proximity correction software (OPC) on thousands of nodes at TSMC. Might those licenses shutdown immediately upon crisis? If you want a new chip, you must run OPC. Oh, and TSMC engineers call at all times of the day or night regarding issues with the software. What might the response be in crisis mode?

  21. naive

    Make it stop

    An US army serviceman who enlisted in 1992 didn't see a single day that his country was in peace, always there was a war with imaginary enemies in countries rich on natural resources.

    China is out there to make a buck, an invasion of Taiwan would be a hard sell since it is hardly worth it.

    But maybe China should behave like the US, instigate a putsch in Taiwan like the CIA did in 2014 in Ukraine to replace the government with a more China friendly one.

  22. Teejay

    Agree, with two small 'buts'

    Great article! I would recommend to anyone interested the current edition of Triggernometry on China on YT or as a podcast.

    Two small thoughts: No, the EU hasn't really woken up to very much. They are making huge advances towards China and are a neoliberal, half globalist, half protectionist trading block, however it suits those that are at the top. The same applies to the UK, within or without the EU.

    And the only reason the US woke up to China is because of Trump, but that is neither woke nor en vogue.

  23. osxtra

    Test Your Backup

    This is just dumb. Sure, TSMC currently has about half the global market share, but that's mostly because we've become complacent, assuming the tech we've created will always be available. Too many eggs, not enough baskets.

    If that plant in Taiwan stops producing for the West, sure, we'll lose some hardware, but not the ideas that *make* it. I do agree the physical plant should be rendered useless to any usurper, but hey, it's just a building! Didn't humans make it once? We can make it again.

    Ghu forbid that during the reconstruction we might have to go on using last year's device for a while.

    It took the US some time to ramp up during WWII, but once it did, look out. The same applies here. TSMC has to have a backup of all their data, all their plans and layouts. It's unlikely all that data will perish.

    Why don't we, the descendants of those who won the Big One, get off our duffs and put a little elbow grease into the problem? I'll bet we could have another fab up and running in under two years, if we really *wanted* to.

    Perhaps - with a nod to historic poetry - near Eindhoven, where we could start all over again worrying about that country's crazy neighbor? Or perhaps in Arizona, where we could worry about some weaponized wacko taking over the plant and demanding "justice"?

    We do need a backup plan for Taiwan, but it shouldn't be just one fab. Why not spread the love to at least a half dozen?

    1. Duncan Macdonald

      Re: Test Your Backup

      If the TSMC factories in Taiwan were destroyed it would take several years to replace their production capacity. There are several factors that limit how quickly an advanced fab can be built of which probably the worst is the production capacity of ASML, Their existing backlog is about 2 years and their current build capacity is 55 EUV and 240 DUV machines per year. To replace the production of the TSMC fabs would also require a lot of highly trained staff (and paying to properly train technical staff is anathema to many US companies!!).

      My own estimate - 20% of existing capacity in 5 years - 100% would take ten years or more.

      1. KSM-AZ

        Ramp Up was: Test Your Backup

        You make the assumption that Applied Materials cannot expand production if you throw copious amounts of money at it. the 20% after year one might be accurate but I would bet with a concerted effort and a trillion dollars or so they can product plenty of state of the art wafer polishers and whatnot. Be real.

  24. Lordrobot Bronze badge

    Protectionist Insanity will destroy you... no such thing as military intelligence

    Consider Fab... in spite of the INTEL CEO born again premillennial Carnival Barker, Intel has already failed at 10 nm and spent some 80 Billion in stock buybacks losing every dime and then some. In fact, this new CEO has no background in microprocessors; comes from software. It is highly unlikely the US can build FAB plants or even make them operational.

    Try to understand how ARM came to be.It came to be by finding global clients and out-engineering Intel. But now politicians, the intellectual bottom rung want to constrain ARM from China the world's largest buyer of chips. What they can't buy, they will eventually make. This has been shown time and time again. I can give countless examples of chip boycotts by the US politicians OBAMA, BUSH II, Trump and Biden that have resulted in China making their own chips. And for Intel, they missed the handheld market because nobody in Asia wanted to suffer a boycott.

    How shocking to find out that Trump's blocking of chip technology demonstrates a capacitive ignorance never before seen. And the point has been brought by other posters that the semiconductor world has been a division of labour shared by many companies of many nations. The US's sudden paranoia over TSCM is a case in point. Attacking FAB and companies that participate in the FAB supply chain. FAB is highly manpower intensive.

    Tech has a very short shelf-like, similar to bananas. IF a politician with infinite stupidity blocks chips from China, that chip sits on the shelf gathering dust. That means no sales, then no R&D, and soon you become INTEL in the handheld market, a non-entity. While the US can then send Biden to South Korea and declare a newfound friendship, Samsung is wondering at what point a US politician will boycott chip shales to them. Thus in case you had not noticed, Samsung has begun moving far from Qualcomm and developing its own phone chips.

    The entire Thrust of the angry orange American clown was to destroy Huawei. Well, it didn't work. Trump did a far better job destroying the Trump Brand. In the process, Trump and Canada even resorted to kidnapping the Huawei founder's daughter and holding her under house arrest for years. If that didn't work to destroy Huawei, what will? More of the same boycotts and sanctions? Huawei markets are expanding in Asia.

    Let's talk about bragging rights. The scale of semiconductors. Just yesterday TSCM, as if fueling the fires of Taiwan Discntentment, said they would be moving to 2nm chips by 2025. Grand. But at present 95% of the semi chip market is chips greater than 14 nm. So all the screaming is over the small stuff and 5% of the global market. Tiny chips for phones make sense but not for cars. And a streamlining of 5G to launch into supercomputer banks may turn phones into mere dumb terminals. No phone will ever have the computational power of a supercomputer. How dare I deprive auto drivers from playing 3D games on their smartphones while racing to Brighten for holiday... Nevertheless, the 5% market is competitive and nearly meaningless at present. And China can do double passes through their old AMSL lithography and achieve 7nm.

    As for the sprawl of components for FAB, China has most of the components now thanks to being boycotted by the giants of semiconductor strategy Don Trump and Joe Trump. In boycotting Russian noble gasses, that puts China in the driver's seat as the largest producer of noble gasses used in semiconductor production. Since Trump, Chinese engineering now has ion implanters and ion engines on their space station.

    Further, China appears to be moving toward nanoimprint and other technologies to replace ASML EVU. It is only a matter of time. ASML knows this and ASLM knows that at some point, the US and EU politicians may as well take over the business. European businesses should be far more fearful of Joe Biden and his sponge-brained sanctions than China. Because if any nation can become self-sufficient in chips, it is the nation that buys most of them.

    The bottom reach is you are not going to stop China and Asia's growth through Nancy Karrigan Knee Capping foreign policies. And the insane propaganda, the oft-repeated mantra that China is years behind in semiconductors is rubbish. One look at Alibaba's server chip where logic and Dram combine is anything but backwoods technology. When you do things the Trump way, you go belly up the Trump way. At present, the US Auto market is in recession for a lack of chips. Trump wanted to make a big splash and scare the global semiconductor market and China anticipated this clown and stockpiled auto chips.

    One final note. I know of nobody in tech that doesn't want a RISC-V desktop computer. Once again Alibaba, the stealth chip giant, published the full instruction set for their RISC-V chips. Free from US meddling and with fewer instruction sets than ARM.

    Should China invade Taiwan and Take TSMC? Don't underestimate China. Over 45% of residents of Taiwan identify as Chinese Mainlanders TSMC's largest customer is China. And if push comes to shove and all of Asia realizes this Western push is a Race War, then you are in trouble. And before you start counting your chips, better look at the educational trends in China and the US. In the US, males once occupied 66% of all university enrols. Now just 30 years later is just 30% and women are up over 66% and not taking up the slack in the sciences. This has created an enormous swell in uneducated males in the US just as China advanced degree education is exploding. Europe and the UK would do well to decouple from Trump and Biden's incredible semiconductor ignorance.

  25. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Unwillingness to fight

    I'm pretty sure if China invades Taiwan the Taiwanese will not put up a fight. They'll just drop their guns and flee home. We've seen the same thing occuring in Korea, Vietnam and recently Afghanistan. For some reason Asians are simply unwilling to fight their own kind in what they see as a "white man's" war.

    If we want Taiwan to remain independent we should sneak some nuke warheads into the country plus some rockets to deliver them to Beijing or other parts of mainland China. And we should make sure that only people we absolutely trust and are willing to push the button when needed to run the country.

  26. Lordrobot Bronze badge

    Many comments erode into the Trumpian view of CHINER...

    It has already been estimated that any chips that are Fabbed in the USA will cost 2x anyplace else except the UK where it will be 5x. With the gov handouts, there is an awful lot of cheering and euphoria. At last count, the US was building FAB Plants on the order of Burger King Franchies. Some 30 fab plants are proposed. Ohio is running articles in local papers claiming the average salaries will be $135K at the OHIO PLANTS... Ohio to be the EPICENTER of FAB in the WORLD.

    As I have said many times OHIO is a long long way from Santa Clara... as sung to the tune... Its a long long way from Tipperary]

    These plants were proposed for POLITICAL REASONS... How many times do you have to repeat this? Obama Battery Factories... not one factory built not one battery made. Solar panels are the same gig... China has 98% of the solar panel business because the panels cannot be made in the USA cost-effectively...Yet all the wonderment of gov subsidies, tax credits, which never work are the first thing Politicians reach for. THEY ARE NOT BUYING CHIP PLANTS, they are buying VOTEs.

    This is a BUST.

    That brings me to the knee-jerk Trumper big brian comments. They claim CHINER can't run the TSMC if they were to take over the plant due to ASML, Zeiss, and other agents required to make and use the devices. I have news for you, China makes all the washes and reagents for these processes. They make their own ion implanters and quite frankly betting against CHINER has been about as good a bet as betting for Trump's businesses which sooner or later go bankrupt.

    46% of the population of Taiwan identify as Mainlanders. They get really uncomfortable when they get the impression the US wants to turn them into the next South Vietnam. China could take Taiwan by force but they don't need to. The more the US meddles the more the islanders think they better make a deal with CHINER...

    Suppose CHINER were to destroy the TSCM company by bombing it into dust. The US would then have ZERO interest in Taiwan. Want to see the fastest conversation to the RED HAIRED STEP CHILD watch what happens if CHINER destroyed the FAB PLANTS. THE US isn't there for some altruistic purpose. THE US didn't burn the middle east to the ground for IRAQI FREEDOM... BUSH II: "You threatened by Daddy!" Weapons of Mass Destruction and the UK gets sucked into the vortex every bloody time.

    THE US can't decouple. China is the Engine and the US is the CABOOSE. The fastest way to kill the US Semiconductor business is to decouple with the world's largest global buyer. Why would CHINER or anybody want to buy FAB CHIPS that could be sanctioned at a whim? Trump tried that with ANDROID. All he did was cut Google's throat. Trump didn't know Android was open source. Now Huawei has HARMONY and google services have been replaced by Homegrown services.

    GIVE IT A BLOODY REST. The idea that the US can take a sophisticated industry like Semiconductors which by its nature is a division of labor and can assert control over private companies of the world claiming some form of IP RIGHTs means the US will eventually be shut out. The US control over ASML is not going to work for ASML or the Dutch. Blocking Zeiss just means you will have to block Cannon too and China already makes precision lenses. So Cannon might ask how do they fit in the US SCHEME... They don't. The US will continue to lose market share because Asia all of it, is not going to risk some kind of crazy sanctions on their phones or consumer electronics that could be sanctioned. They aren't going to use US technology. And if the US is so high on the pyramid of technology why didn't they invest in EUV and build their own machinery?

    I know I won't penetrate the thickness of a Trumper. They are myopic morons and they are here talking their trash about CHINER and they have never been there. My God...

    Every time the US sends its fat politicians to Taiwan, the Taiwanese cringe. They do not want to become the US's next South Vietnam. The more you play this silly Nancy Kerrigan Kneecapping foreign policy lunacy, the more the people of Taiwan want a settlement with CHINA's mainland. And the Mainland Chinese know this and play it up big. When you are dealing with CHINA, you are dealing with smart people, not Trumpers. You play checker, Chinese play GO.

    Last week it was revealed to the Trumpers and old Neocon liberals and Bush Strain RINOs that the Commerce Department is giving exemption to China for virtually any and all US technology. They tell the retroactive dopes one thing and they do the opposite because they know, they are the Caboose in a decoupling with Asia.

    Let me give you a TRUMPER BIDEN COMBO... Remember Trump's trade war? Tariffs, sanctions that destroyed the US Farmer... That according to the NEOCONS was a Brilliant Trump Negotiation Tool. Trump claimed tariffs would even the trade deficit... WRONG. Aside from the fact a Trade deficit is a function of SAVINGS NOT TRADE was a concept too abstract for trumpers or union-loving Joe Biden. It is simple. Americans save less than 1% of their incomes and the Chinese save 34%.

    So how did that work out? Post Trump Tariffs, the CHINER USA Trade deficit TRIPLED and is still rising. And Tariffs in the USA are tax-deductible business expenses so they did not produce the great billions Trump still claims. They are revenue neutral. But the Gov sorting and warehousing of imported goods from China is a bureaucratic balloon of spending. So no matter how you look at it... the policy is a massive failure and head soaking. Astonishingly Biden clings to it and now you have double-digit inflation. Chips shortages, and a destroyed supply chain. Sorry but the Government got you here and they are not going to be pulling you out of the ditch with more gov spending.

    THE US and UK populist rhetoric has captured the intellectual bottom rung; they are destroying you and your markets. NO foreign investment in the US at present. Your stock exchanges have become Xenophobic and in the last six months, Hong Kong has $58 billion in new IPO while the US is flatlining. Europe would do well to decouple from the US and UK.

    AS FOR WAR which trumpers want. They want CIVIL war in the US and of course global wars and war with CHINER... I have no idea who is going to fight these wars. China can field an army of 760 million. Do you think GenXers are going to go into that meat chopper?

    “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.” —Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh in a warning to French colonialists in 1946.

    And Trumpers and old Neocons.. the US never attacks any country with Nukes or hadn't you noticed? Chiner has hypersonics and 5G which you don't have. Hypersonic nukes would have no trouble penetrating US defences. A Nuke war comes home to America with cities of fused glass. So big talk shows a small brain.

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