A preliminary meeting of the U.S.-led Chip 4 group, attended by representatives from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S. took place last week after a year of preparation. The participants agreed that such an alliance was required to build a resilient chip supply chain. Meanwhile, Taiwan Deputy Economy Minister told reporters that the country would use the group to protect interests of its local semiconductor industry. Taiwan also plans to ensure that chips made in Taiwan would not be used by China to boost its military capabilities.
The so-called Chip 4 alliance comprising the USA, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan is meant to secure the global semiconductor supply chain, synchronize policies, grants, and joint research and development (R&D) projects. Companies from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan closely collaborate with companies and universities from the U.S. Japan also supplies critical raw materials to countries in the region.
Beyond this, however, chipmakers from Asia rarely cooperate between themselves, as companies such as Kioxia, Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix, TSMC, and UMC compete against each other pretty fiercely and naturally do not want to share any trade secrets.
In a bid to develop next-generation semiconductor technologies, foster cooperation, build a resilient chip supply chain, and better compete against growing Chinese semiconductor prowess, the three Asian countries and their U.S. allies have to somehow work together despite various controversies.
"A semiconductor industry is a globally collaborated industry," said Chen Chern-chyi, deputy Economic Affairs minister of Taiwan, reports Nikkei. "The manufacturing equipment comes primarily from the U.S. and Europe, the raw materials come from Japan, and manufacturing technology from Taiwan and [South] Korea. […] So, this requires collaboration to form a very resilient supply chain."
While Taiwan wants to ensure that it gets a steady supply of raw materials from Japan, it does not necessarily want to rebuild Japan's semiconductor industry and enable the country to produce chips using leading-edge process technologies on its own soil.
"We will use that [Chip 4] platform to strive to safeguard our companies' interest," said the deputy minister, reports Reuters.
Yet there are perhaps more pressing issues for Taiwan and South Korea. China is the largest trading partner for both countries and Chinese chip designers are very important customers for TSMC and Samsung Foundry. While boosting China's military capabilities is clearly not in Taiwanese interests, TSMC used to produce chips for Chinese entities like Phytium that had ties with China's government and military.
The deputy minister told the reporters that his country would ensure that China no longer has access to state-of-the-art chips even by using third parties to develop advanced processors for companies such as Phytium.
"With respect to national security, we will take measures including safeguarding our trade secrets, our key national key technologies, safeguarding our talent and not to be poached illegally," said Chen, reports Bloomberg. "Once we find a loophole, we plug it."