Four questions to understand the technological war on semiconductors

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the U.S. and have been for a while”, Joe Biden, Tuesday, December 6, rejoiced in front of the gratin of technology. The American president was later in Arizona to celebrate Taiwan’s TSMC group making a major investment in a semiconductor factory. By the end of the construction of the site, it is enough to meet America’s demand for these electronic chips and ensure the technological sovereignty of the country.

This episode is the latest in an open tech war between the US and China. Semiconductors, indispensable in our daily lives, are at the center of global geopolitical tensions.

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What is a semiconductor?

Any device that allows you to read this article is based on semiconductors. Without them, there is no computer, no mobile phone, no 5G, no dishwasher, no car. They are also present in defense sectors, be it in weapon systems or aerospace. In short, semiconductors are the basis of modern technology.

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Semiconductors are materials whose properties allow them to be both electrical conductors and insulators. Silicon, which is abundant on Earth, is one of the most widely used semiconductors. Using the language incorrectly, the term semiconductor also designates chips that use these materials on which electronic components are etched. These semiconductor chips enable electronic devices to receive, process and store information.

Where are semiconductors manufactured?

If the semiconductor chip was invented in the United States, today Asia, especially Taiwan, dominates its production: the island produces more than 60% of the world’s semiconductors, and 92% of the most complex ones. which powers our smartphones and computers, highlights echoes. For the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, TSMC single-handedly supplies more than half of the world market for die casting of these electronic chips.

As for China, it is the largest importer of semiconductors in the world. 36% of its $430 billion worth of semiconductor purchases in 2021 came from Taiwan. The Great Continent. Only 16% of the national demand was produced on its soil.

Why are they at the center of geopolitical competition?

The strategic role and importance of semiconductors is highlighted even in 2020, when the world is experiencing shortages. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns are halting chip production lines, while demand is growing – things like: global digital transformation, the introduction of 5G, the rise of electric vehicles and others. Adding to this ongoing crisis is the war started by Russia in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, which has greatly hampered the supply of raw materials needed for the production of semiconductors.

This summer, in response to US Deputy Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, Chinese warships surrounded Taiwan with a fake naval blockade. Then the world trembled at the prospect of a war that would stop the production and export of such valuable chips. A cost that will cost the world economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Washington also cited Xi Jinping’s aggressive nationalism and Beijing’s military buildup to produce weapons of mass destruction to justify new measures to control semiconductor exports in early October. American companies and those cooperating with the United States are now prohibited from doing business with about thirty Chinese companies. As for American citizens who will support the development or production of chips in China, they face the risk of being stripped of their citizenship. The goal is to prevent Beijing from developing the most sophisticated chips itself and equipping its military.

Russia, in turn, is seeking to acquire advanced semiconductors to support its war effort. “The whole challenge for the West is to take advantage of Russia’s technological deficit and lack of semiconductors needed to operate modern combat systems as well as surveillance or satellite imaging devices.”add The Great Continent.

What are states doing to ensure sovereignty over microchips?

Although the size of the global semiconductor market is expected to grow by 60% by 2030 compared to 2021, the powers that be are looking for ways to reduce their hyper-dependence and ensure their supply, especially by planning large investments. Last July, the US Congress approved it CHIPS and the Science Act, a law that provides nearly $53 billion for manufacturing and research in the sector.

China, which has become one of the leading players in the semiconductor industry in two decades, declared the chip a top priority in its “China 2025” program and invested billions of dollars in development programs.development and research. Although he was ready, he had already suffered a heavy blow from the October attack of the United States.

Europe is trying to catch up with the US and Asia (especially China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan).. “The European Union does not currently have sufficient capacity to design and manufacture its own advanced and mature semiconductors”, the Minister of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic Josef Sikela regretted. Thus, the Council of the European Union adopted the regulation on semiconductors on December 1. This involves an investment of 43 billion euros with the aim of doubling semiconductor production and increasing its market share to 20% by 2030.

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