Report: TSMC’s ASML Chip Machines Can Be Remotely Shut Down if China Invades Taiwan

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An invasion of Taiwan by China is unthinkable in multiple ways: it could lead to a regional war between China, U.S. allies in southeastern Asia and possibly the U.S. itself. It would be tragic for the people of Taiwan. It would be damaging, potentially disastrous, for the global economy.

Unthinkable yes, but an invasion is being thought about at elite levels within the People Republic of China and by policy makers and analysts everywhere.

A prime object within Taiwan is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s leading manufacturer of advanced microprocessors, upon which our daily lives – our way of life – depend, and which make much economic and scientific advancement possible.

Forced to think about an armed invasion of Taiwan, a key question becomes: how would government and military leaders in Taiwan, along with TSMC itself, respond?

According to a Bloomberg article published this week in the South China Morning Post, TSMC and ASML, the Dutch technology company that makes chip manufacturing machines that TSMC relies on, “can remotely disable (ASML) chip-making equipment if mainland China invades Taiwan,” according to Bloomberg sources.

This follows concerns privately expressed by the U.S. government to the two companies, according to Bloomberg. “ASML reassured officials about its ability to remotely disable the machines when the Dutch government met with the company on the threat, two others said. The Netherlands has run simulations on a possible invasion in order to better assess the risks, they added,” the article stated.

Both companied declined to comment publicly on the Bloomberg article, nor did U.S. government officials respond to email inquiries from Bloomberg.

Of concern are ASML’s extreme ultraviolet (EUV) chip-making machines, which Bloomberg described as being “about the size of a city bus” and cost more than $200 million US. EUV’s are highly complex and intricate machines that require ongoing maintenance, “…and the company can remotely force a shut-off that would act as a kill switch,” anonymous sources told Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also reported that last September, TSMC chairman Mark Liu hinted “that any invader of Taiwan would find his company’s chip-making machines out of order. ‘Nobody can control TSMC by force,’ Liu said. ‘If there is a military invasion you will render TSMC factory non-operable.’”

For further context, in January 2022, we reported that US military planners were taking notice of a suggestion by two military scholars calling for the destruction of TSMC in the event China invades the island nation. In addition, author Chris Miller, whose book, Chip War, is a history and analysis of the growing role of the semiconductor industry in global economic and military competitiveness, was a guest on the @HPCpodcast in November 2022.

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