TAIPEI -- U.S. senior trade official met with Chairman Morris Chang of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world's largest contract chipmaker, and other industry executives this week in Taiwan to foster greater collaboration, according to a source familiar with the matter and a local media report.
The meetings came as U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to penalize China over high-tech intellectual property theft with heavy tariffs and could further weigh on deals linked with Chinese groups involving sensitive technologies. The Trump administration has recently blocked the Chinese takeover bids of Lattice Semiconductor, a smaller rival of Xilinx and Intel's Altera, and chip testing equipment company Xcerra. The world's two biggest economies are currently in talks to avert a trade war.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing Ian Steff visited TSMC's Chang on Monday to exchange ideas, company spokesperson Elizabeth Sun confirmed to the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday. Local media Liberty Times first reported the matter.
In a separate meeting, Steff also spoke to some local chip industry executives and local representatives from American chip equipment makers to discuss topics ranging from the protection of intellectual property, trade secrets to information security issues, a chip industry executive told the Nikkei Asian Review. Steff told attendees that Taiwan would be an important ally for the U.S. to tackle intellectual property issues with China, the person said.
Beijing has pledged to build a competitive chip industry to cut heavy reliance on foreign chipmakers. Chips serve as the brains of every electronic device and are viewed as crucial to national security. Last year, memory chipmakers Nanya Technology and Micron Taiwan accused former employees of stealing trade secrets for their Chinese rivals.
Taiwan Economic Minister Shen Jong-Chin told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview on March 27 that many Taiwanese chip companies were concerned about technology leaks to their Chinese competitors.
"China often asked Taiwanese companies to move all research and development base and even share some technology if they want to get better support from regulators and policymakers," said Shen in the interview. "Many business owners are really careful about this and could be reluctant to invest too much there."
American Institute to Taiwan, the U.S. mission to the island, said in a press release that the purpose of Steff's trip was to explore ways of collaboration to strengthen bilateral trade and the investment relationships between the United States and Taiwan. The agency did not specify the chip industry in the statement. AIT declined to comment further.
TSMC's Chang is the leader in Taiwan's flagship semiconductor industry that generates the most revenue after the U.S. and South Korea. TSMC is the island's biggest company by market capitalization, while Chang, a U.S. citizen, is one of the most prominent industry veterans.
Steff is among the senior officials responsible for executing the administration's plans to foster growth in U.S. manufacturing jobs and investments. He previously worked for the Semiconductor Industry Association in Washington D.C. for nearly a decade.
TSMC still generates around 60% of its annual revenue from U.S. clients while sales from China has been growing at the fastest rate for the Taiwanese company. TSMC's customers include Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Xilinx.
Nikkei staff writer Lauly Li contributed to this report.