U.S. President Joe Biden’s first stop on his inaugural trip to Asia on Friday was a massive Samsung Electronics plant where semiconductor chips are produced. The trip underscores a message of economic security with an eye on China and Taiwan.
“The critical component of how we’ll do that in my view is by working with close partners that do share our values, like the Republic of Korea,” Biden said.
Advanced chips are used for high-performance computing and artificial intelligence. More than 75% of global chip production comes from Asia. That’s a possible vulnerability the U.S. hopes to protect against through more domestic production. There’s $52 billion worth of government investment in the sector in a bill being negotiated in Congress.
The risk of Chinese aggression against Taiwan could possibly cut off the flow of high-end computer chips that are needed in the U.S. for military gear as well as consumer goods. The U.S. is already more dependent on Taiwan’s high-end microchips than it was on Middle Eastern oil in decades past, according to a report from a Washington, D.C. think tank released earlier this year.
“These little chips,” Biden said in remarks after he toured the plant, “are the key to propelling us into the next era of humanity’s technological development.”
In terms of chip production, China leads the global pack with a 24% share, followed by Taiwan (21%), South Korea (19%) and Japan (13%). Only 10% of chips are made in the U.S., according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
Biden opened the trip in South Korea and will end in Japan next week. Relations between Japan and South Korea have been at their worst in decades because of disputes over wartime history and trade. The countries’ two new leaders appear willing to heal these rifts, with Biden working in a role to help bring them closer together.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.