What does US pressure on Taiwan for microchips say about Biden administration?

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: May 06, 2021, 11:44 AM IST

US President Joe Biden (file photo) Photograph:(Reuters)

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Biden promised to be different from Trump when he declared “America is back”. But 100 days in office, and America is back to its old tactics

Under former US President Donald Trump, Washington pressurised its allies to pack up oil imports from Iran just because it wanted to put “maximum pressure” on the Islamic republic. Around the same time, Washington also put pressure on fellow NATO members to up their military budgets. It also pressed US allies to fight Huawei.

US President Joe Biden promised to put an end to this maximalist approach towards diplomacy. But just 100 days into office, Biden seems to have changed his mind. Washington is pressing Taiwan to supply microchip so that the Biden administration can revive and drive the American economy.

Microchips are tiny wafers of semiconducting materials and are needed in smartphones, computers and gaming consoles. Each car has over 1,000 microchips which help in controlling the car radio, the climate control system, tyre pressure etc. Currently, there is a global shortage of microchips and automakers are feeling the pinch.

From General Motors to Ford, auto-companies have been forced to shut plants and press break on production in the US. This has threatened Biden's promise of accelerating economic recovery. Autoworkers are facing cuts in their hours and wages. Additionally, this has threatened Biden's approval ratings as he stares at mid-term elections and Democrats struggle to hold their House majority.

The situation is so dire that in April, the White House convened a summit to address chip shortage. Now, America is exporting its problem and directing the pressure towards an ally.

Taiwan has the world's largest semiconductor manufacturing industry and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is among the world's leading microchip producers and makes nearly 12 million microchips a year.

America wants these wafers to be shipped to US automobile companies. But the demand for Taiwanese microchips is not limited to the US alone. The TSMC, for example, has clients across Europe, Japan, South Korea, even China but Washington wants priority. The US is leveraging its position as Taiwan's main defence exporter. As the main foreign source of weapons, Taiwan need US to defend itself from China.

“Not a day goes by that we don't push on that”, said US Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo told an executive from General Motors. “There are so many American jobs on the line”, she added. US is betting on Taiwan's vulnerability against an increasingly aggressive China.

Trump's legacy of pressing adversaries and allies alike still lingers in the White House. American diplomacy under Biden is increasingly being shaped by national politics.

Be it the refugee cap, or helping a natural ally like India in times of a global healthcare crisis, Biden believes in testing the waters at home first. And he is not shy of escalating pressure on an ally if it serves his national interest. Biden promised to be different from Rrump when he declared “America is back”. But 100 days in office and America is back to its old tactics.