Taiwan’s APEC rep met China’s Xi, talked chips with Harris

REUTERS/Jiraporn Kuhakan
Founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Morris Chang attends a news conference after attending APEC in Bangkok on Saturday.

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Taiwan’s representative to APEC said on Saturday he had a brief but “happy” chat with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Bangkok, a rare high-level interaction, and also discussed semiconductors with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

APEC is one of the few international organizations Chinese-claimed Taiwan is a member of, as Beijing – which views it as a Chinese province and not a country – blocks its participation at most others.

Tensions between Taipei and Beijing have risen since China staged war games near the democratically-governed island in August after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited.

Speaking to reporters in Bangkok, Morris Chang, also the founder of Taiwanese chip giant TSMC 2330.TW, TSM.N, said he had talked to Xi on Friday.

“We asked after each, and I congratulated him on the success of the Communist Party’s 20th Congress,” Chang said, referring to last month’s event in Beijing at which Xi secured an unprecedented third term in office.

“It was a very happy, polite interaction,” he added, but said tensions across the Taiwan Strait were not discussed.

APEC has traditionally been one the few forums where China and Taiwan talk, even if just in passing for pleasantries.

China cut off a formal talks mechanism with Taiwan after President Tsai Ing-wen first won office in 2016, believing her to be a separatist, which she denies.

While Chang is now retired from TSMC, he remains influential as the elder statesman of Taiwan’s chip industry, and said he had discussed the company’s new $12 billion plant in the U.S. state of Arizona with Harris at a separate meeting on the summit’s sidelines.

Chang said he told Harris that Taiwan had already invited U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to a “tool-in” ceremony for TSMC’s plant in Arizona on Dec. 6, though production is not starting immediately.

At last year’s virtual APEC summit, Chang appeared to criticize the United States and China over their efforts to become self-sufficient at making semiconductors, saying this would drive up costs and limit technological advances.

Speaking in Bangkok, Chang said while the cost of making chips in the United States was higher than Taiwan by at least 50%, this did not “exclude” shifting some production to the United States, which is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier.

TSMC is also building a plant in Japan, another APEC member, and Chang hinted other countries were in consideration.

“TSMC could be considering other places also, but I will not talk about any details now.”

Taiwan participates at APEC as “Chinese Taipei,” the same name it uses to take part in the Olympics and some other events.