Analyse Asia with Bernard Leong: Chip War with Chris Miller

With Chris Miller, Associate Professor of International History at The Fletcher School

Chris Miller, author of “Chip War” shares his perspectives on the rise of Asia from the semiconductor’s point of view and what it means for China’s quest to achieve chip independence.

Fresh out of the studio, Chris Miller, associate professor of international history from Tufts University joined us in a conversation to discuss his new book “Chip War”. Starting from the birth of Silicon Valley and the inability of the Soviet Union to develop its semiconductor ecosystem, Chris chronicled the story of semiconductors that brought forth the rise of Asia in the past few decades and how Japan, Korea and Taiwan built their expertise within the chip supply chain along with other key players. He brought us to the present state of affairs and explored whether China can develop their semiconductor industry by decoupling from the rest of the world and risk a conflict with the United States over Taiwan. Last but not least, he offered his perspectives on the future of the semiconductor industry.

“It’s impossible today for any country to do it all on their own. And even if you looked at the United States, which is still the biggest player in the supply chain by far, it’s still the case that the US can’t do it all on its own. As you mentioned, it imports lithography equipment from the Netherlands. It imports chemicals and materials from Japan. And then the most advanced fabrication of processor chips is in Taiwan. So, no country can do it alone. And really no country is even close.” – Chris Miller


Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology (AmazonSimon & Schuster)

  • To start, I have read the book and from a reader’s perspective, it feels like the history of the world, even the rise of Asia, written from the semiconductor’s point of view. What is the inspiration behind “Chip War” and what are the key themes and takeaways from the book?
  • The history of semiconductors came from Silicon Valley. Can you summarize the story of the traitorous eight and how part of the team, for example, Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore eventually end up starting Intel?
  • How did the semiconductor industry eventually end up with consumer electronics given that its early origins are focused on the military and the space race?
  • History doesn’t repeat itself but it seems to rhyme. Can you talk about the rise of Japan and how it displaced Intel in the process, which in turn, forced the company to pivot to microprocessors in the 1980s?
  • How far was Japan in the semiconductors race in the 1980s? What was done by the US government to constrain the Japanese so that they don’t take over the US enterprise? Part of the story also came from an alliance between Intel and the other chip makers to contain Japan’s rise as well.
  • How did South Korea manage to enter into the semiconductors race with Samsung?
  • Then we come to the 1990s Taiwan’s turn to build their semiconductors expertise. Can you talk about how Morris Chang, a well-known executive from Texas Instruments came to work with the Taiwanese government and built TSMC?
  • How did TSMC disrupt the vertically integrated model from Intel with the foundry model?
  • What are the factors that made TSMC successful, for example, its partnership with ASML and the talent bench they have to execute the chip production for major customers, NVIDIA and Apple?
  • TSMC 30th anniversary video hosted by Morris Chang mentioned by BL during the interview.
  • If we look at the semiconductor supply chain today, it’s extremely specialized, for example, Taiwan produced the chips, the Netherlands built the ASML machines for EUV lithography, the UK with ARM architecture, and Japan and Korea with their expertise, does made it difficult for any country to be able to do it all, for example, China?
  • The early origins of semiconductors are meant for the military, what were they used for then and why is it that China is severely constrained by this choke point technology?
  • China’s rise differently from Japan and Korea, because, first, it is not a democracy and second, it is starting to decouple from the supply chain with its version of the GPS: beidou and third, they have a 1.4 billion population which constitutes the largest market in the world and have its domestic market. Will it be able to replicate the semiconductor chain given all the blocking coming from the US?
  • If we start from the present and dial into Graham Allison’s book “Destined for War” how Japan ended up attacking the United States because of tough sanctions of oil as a final straw, and then replaced China with Japan and then oil with semiconductors, what is the likelihood that China will attack Taiwan with the recent conclusion of the 20th party congress?
  • If we fast forward to the next decade, what will be the story of semiconductors in the future?
  • Chris’ thoughts on the Chips Act and Intel’s prospects in the future.


This podcast episode is republished from Analyse Asia.

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