Taiwan's semiconductor industry and its Silicon Shield against China : Planet Money Taiwan is at the center of a global feud. Its main defense may be what some call its "Silicon Shield" — its powerful semiconductor industry. On today's show, the story of how one economic hero helped to transform Taiwan's economy and create the "Taiwan Miracle."

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Forging Taiwan's Silicon Shield

Forging Taiwan's Silicon Shield

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Annabelle Chih/Getty Images
HSINCHU, TAIWAN - SEPTEMBER 16: A closeup of a circuit board on display at the Macronix International Co. Ltd on September 16, 2022 in Hsinchu, Taiwan. Taiwan's semiconductor manufacturing capabilities are crucial to global supply chains. Taiwan accounts for some 60 percent of global semiconductor foundry revenue, according to media reports. (Photo by Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)
Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan is — and has always been — a part of China. Meanwhile, many on the island say Taiwan is independent of China and a self-governed democracy. One thing that may be protecting the island in this global feud: semiconductors.

Semiconductors or microchips can be found in basically everything — cars, laptops, phones, ATMS, satellites, and even nuclear weapons. Taiwan is a world leader in producing semiconductors; people even call its semiconductor industry its "Silicon Shield." The theory goes that if the world relies on Taiwanese semiconductors, then perhaps the world would stop China from invading Taiwan. Plus China also needs Taiwanese semiconductors, maybe it wouldn't risk upending the industry.

The story of building this Silicon Shield is just part of an economic development story so dramatic that it's known simply as: "The Taiwan Miracle." On today's show we team up with NPR's Peabody Award-winning podcast, Throughline, to tell this epic history. From revolution to Cold War to a visionary finance minister. Plus we'll meet the lovestruck Taiwanese engineer who managed to get inside your favorite Nintendo products by pulling off one of the wildest global trade schemes we've ever heard.

Today's episode was reported by Planet Money and Throughline, NPR's show about how the past is never past. Listen to Throughline's story, "Silicon Island."

Music by Ramtin Arablouei: "Open," "Arrival," "KT Li," "The Face of an Ironist," "The Park," "Back to Taiwan," "The Nintendo Heist," "All the Stops," and "Montreal."

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