If you’re reading this article, you’re doing so on an electronic device that was likely produced in China, or that had much of its hardware produced in China. And much of the design of that hardware was undertaken in Taiwan. Companies such as Foxconn, Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte are among the world’s top electronics firms, and they’re all based in Taiwan. Taiwan’s status as the world’s top producer and designer of semiconductors is so well-established that Chinese companies are now trying to poach top Taiwanese talent, something that could have a profound impact on the computer industry.
Chinese companies have allegedly poached over 3,000 Taiwanese engineers from their companies, offering to double or triple their salaries, in an attempt to build up the Chinese semiconductor industry. That’s about 10% of the engineers within the Taiwanese semiconductor industry. The goal of poaching those engineers is less to cripple Taiwan, perhaps, than it is to boost China, as the trade war with the US and the sanctions against Huawei have made the Chinese government realize just how far behind other countries China really is.
China’s efforts are so expansive that over the next decade the country could very well catch up to Taiwan, the US, and others who currently are at the cutting edge of semiconductor research and production. Already so much of the computing equipment that we use comes from China, and if China is able to rival Taiwan then it could become a major player in international computing markets.
Given the belief that Chinese companies already engineer backdoors into their products, Chinese growth in chip design and production could mean that backdoors would now be built in at the chip level rather than elsewhere at the hardware level, meaning that anyone using Chinese-manufactured semiconductors is essentially handing over all of their information to the Chinese government.
Taiwanese engineers may look at their individual incentives and think that working for Chinese firms is in their self interest, but those Chinese firms realize that by playing the long game they’ll win out in the end. Lenin’s statement that Western capitalists would sell the Communists the rope by which they would be hanged has never rung more true.