From Mirage fighters to microchips: Taiwan-France accord marks a milestone in high-tech collaboration

Bryan Chuang, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

In a significant diplomatic development, Taiwan and France had recently signed a Science and Technology Cooperation Convention (STC). This agreement not only elevated Taiwan-France relations to the ministerial level but also marked a substantial breakthrough in bilateral government relations.

The signing comes in the wake of the passage of the "Chips Act" in the US and EU, compelling the French government to acknowledge Taiwan's strategic importance, especially in light of semiconductor needs within France's aerospace and automotive industries. Recognizing the opportune moment, France seeks to improve relations with Taiwan, aiming to secure access to crucial semiconductor resources and potentially facilitate future semiconductor investments.

Jointly formulated by Taiwan's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and France's Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche et de l'Innovation, MESRI) , the agreement outlines plans for the inaugural "Taiwan-France Science and Technology Meeting" scheduled to take place in Taiwan in the first half of 2024. Additionally, it paves the way for enhanced collaboration in six key areas: semiconductors and quantum, healthcare, marine technology, cybersecurity and AI, green industries, energy and net-zero, and space technology.

France's military industry, renowned globally for its excellence, has supplied Taiwan with top-tier equipment, such as the Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets and La Fayette-class frigates.

While Taiwan purchased the La Fayette frigates and Mirage 2000 fighters decades ago, the island nation has made remarkable strides in semiconductor technology. Taiwan's semiconductor industry, particularly exemplified by TSMC, now leads the global market with advanced capabilities, surpassing competitors like Intel and Samsung Electronics.

The global chip shortage in 2021 highlighted the critical role of the semiconductor industry in various sectors, including automotive and military. France, with its significant automotive and military industries, experienced disruptions due to the shortage, further emphasizing the importance of collaborating with Taiwan.

Overcoming pressure from China, MESRI's willingness to sign this agreement stems from Taiwan's unparalleled semiconductor capabilities, a strength that China lacks. The breakthrough in governmental relations sets the stage for deeper and more forward-looking cooperation between Taiwan and France, extending beyond academic institutions to broader collaborative projects.

The significant advancement in governmental ties between Taiwan and France on the eve of 2024 signifies a pivotal moment, expanding the scope of dialogue beyond academic institutions such as CNRS, INCa, ANR, and the Académie des Sciences. This breakthrough opens the door for more profound, extensive, and forward-thinking collaborative projects between Taiwan and France.

Recognizing Taiwan's pivotal role in the semiconductor landscape, France actively seeks collaboration in renewable energy, satellites, medical devices, oceanography, quantum computing, and quantum sensing. This engagement aims to not only address France's semiconductor needs but also foster industrial investment and collaboration, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.

With Taiwan boasting a higher credit rating than France, low investment risks, and the ability to weather geopolitical tensions, French companies find Taiwan an attractive investment destination. Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua's visit to France and engagements with companies investing in various sectors, including solid-state batteries and offshore wind farms, further solidifies the foundation for economic cooperation.

As the global focus on renewable energy intensifies, Taiwan's expertise in offshore wind capacity positions the island nation as a competitive player in France's upcoming large-scale wind farm tenders. The alignment of goals between the two nations, particularly in meeting COP28 targets, offers new avenues for collaboration and economic growth.

Significantly, Taiwan's enactment of the Space Development Act, coupled with the flourishing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite industry, sets the stage for a remarkable opportunity. The imminent CYSAT 24, a premier annual European gathering in Paris dedicated to cybersecurity in the space sector, offers an additional avenue for Taiwan to shine. Capitalizing on its role as a semiconductor frontrunner, Taiwan envisions heightened engagement from its businesses, startups, and academic institutions at this influential international event. This participation is poised to reinforce Taiwan's global impact in the realms of technology and innovation.