Taiwan Says U.S. Vaccine Aid Would Help Shield Chip Industry

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A senior Taiwan official said U.S. assistance securing more Covid-19 vaccines could serve to protect the critical semiconductor industry at a time of tight chip supplies globally and a rising number of coronavirus cases on the island.

“While for now the uptick hasn’t had an impact, if it lasts too long there could be logistical problems,” James Lee, director-general of Taipei’s cultural and economic office in New York, said in an interview Thursday. “That’s why it’s urgent. We hope the international community can help release vaccines as soon as possible to help control the outbreak.”

Beyond the humanitarian plea for help fighting the pandemic, Lee’s argument may resonate because of deep concern in U.S. government and business about the shortage of chips used in everything from mobile phones to automobiles.

Taiwan Says U.S. Vaccine Aid Would Help Shield Chip Industry

Taiwan is facing hundreds of untraceable infections after a year of being one of the biggest success stories of Covid-19 containment. The new surge has been confined so far mainly to the greater Taipei area and hasn’t affected the operations of Taiwan’s major technology companies, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., as most of their operations are located farther south.

But a drought has left hydroelectric plants operating at limited capacity, contributing to power outages in major cities across the island, including locations where the world’s biggest computer chip businesses operate.

Taiwan’s government earlier this week pledged to try to keep the world supplied with chips and projected a limited impact from its worst outbreak so far. Keeping up production is critical not just for Taiwan’s growth, but because the island is the world’s main supplier of advanced computer chips.

The concentration of chip manufacturing in Taiwan and a global shortage fueled in part by the Covid-19 pandemic has quickly become a geopolitical issue, with governments around the world racing to secure additional supplies and vowing to build their own locally-based chip-manufacturing industries.

Although Taiwan has ranked among the top places in the world in its handling of the pandemic, it has been slower to acquire and distribute shots. So far, only 315,000 doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered to Taiwan. Of those, 245,000 shots have been given, enough to cover about 0.5% of the population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Taiwan’s envoy in Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, said on Friday that she’s trying to ensure that Moderna Inc. shots the government has ordered arrive in June. The island’s government is also in talks with the White House to get a portion of the 20 million U.S. doses President Joe Biden has pledged to donate on top of the 60 million AstraZeneca shots.

“We have talked to the Biden administration and we work closely together,” Lee said. “We expect them to help. The U.S. government has been very supportive of Taiwan and that is under their consideration. We expect that pretty soon the White House will have a decision.”

Despite the recent outbreak, linked to a hotel used to quarantine pilots, Taiwan has reported only 12 deaths with a population of 23.5 million, and Lee says its expertise in handling the virus should be shared with the World Health Assembly, which meets from May 24.

Health Summit

The U.S. and Group of Seven have repeatedly called for Taiwan to be allowed to attend the virtual meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body but China, which considers the island one of its provinces, has objected.

Chinese officials said earlier this month that Beijing had made “appropriate arrangements” for Taiwan’s participation, prompting Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu to accuse China of spreading “shameless lies.”

“We have witnessed an unprecedented show of support from the international community,” Lee said. “We will continue forward with our bid to the WHO.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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