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Nvidia’s CEO is given the rockstar treatment in AI-powerhouse Taiwan


By Wayne Chang, Will Ripley and John Mees, CNN

Taipei, Taiwan (CNN) — When Nvidia surpassed Apple this week to become America’s second most valuable company, its CEO Jensen Huang was being feted like a rockstar in his birthplace Taiwan.

Wearing his signature black leather jacket, Huang spoke Sunday at a packed stadium in the capital Taipei, highlighting the island’s importance in building the infrastructure that underpins artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which has powered Nvidia’s rise to the top.

“Taiwan is the unsung hero, a steadfast pillar of the world,” he said onstage, gesturing to a graphic that showed the names of nearly 100 of the company’s suppliers in Taiwan.

Whether it was throwing the first pitch at a baseball game or visiting a night market, Huang’s every move has been tracked by his fans, legions of followers on social media as well as a posse of TV cameras. Taiwan media has dubbed the phenomenon “Jensanity.”

He’s not the only celebrity CEO in town. A parade of global tech glitterati — including Lisa Su of AMD (AMD), Pat Gelsinger of Intel (INTC) and Cristiano Amon of Qualcomm (QCOM) — also flocked to the city this week to attend Computex, an annual trade show.

Started some 40 years ago as a showcase for Taiwan’s burgeoning tech manufacturers, Computex isn’t used to the limelight. For decades, it was a low-key sourcing fair for personal computers and other consumer gadgets.

That was before the launch of ChatGPT by OpenAI in late 2022. Since then, the global competition to create generative AI applications has led to soaring demand for the cutting edge chips used in data centers to support these programs.

Neither Nvidia (NVDA) nor AMD, run by CEOs who also happen to be cousins, manufacture their own semiconductors. The job of producing their most advanced chips is outsourced to Taiwan-based TSMC, which makes an estimated 90% of the world’s super-advanced chips.

That has elevated the island’s position as a key player in the AI revolution — and suddenly made Computex the hottest ticket in town.

“Tech CEOs are visiting Taiwan both to cement their relationships with the island’s chip manufactures and server assemblers, but also to access the country’s AI talent,” Christopher Miller, author of “Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology,” told CNN.

Media frenzy

CEOs of major global companies, especially consumer-facing ones, have usually opted for low-key trips to Taiwan or avoided the island altogether to avoid a backlash from Beijing. China’s ruling Communist Party claims the self-governing democracy as its own, despite never having controlled it and has vowed to “reunify” with it, by force if necessary.

Huang has visited his birthplace regularly and raised eyebrows on this trip by his reference to the island.

“Taiwan is one of the most important countries in the world. It is at the center of the electronics industry. The computer industry is built because of Taiwan,” he told a local reporter while visiting a night market.

Beijing generally condemns any suggestion of statehood for Taiwan. And even though Huang’s comment became a hotly trending topic on Chinese social media, the country’s state media has stayed unusually quiet on the subject.

“That’s because they don’t need us, but we need them,” a Weibo user posted on China’s microblogging service.

The United States has imposed a number of restrictions on the export of AI chips to China. Late last year, Chinese tech giants like Tencent were rushing to stockpile AI chips before those curbs took hold.

Nvidia, which is reportedly developing new chips for the Chinese market to comply with US export curbs, has said the rules would result in a “permanent loss of opportunities” for US industry.

Shrugging off geopolitics

Shortly before Computex opened, Taiwan was encircled by Chinese warships and fighter jets in the largest military exercises in over a year. The drills took place just days after the island swore in its new president, Lai Ching-te, who is openly loathed by Beijing for championing the island’s sovereignty and distinct identity.

The CEOs at Computex seemed to shrug off the continuing political tensions, which have persisted for several years and put pressure on TSMC to expand outside Taiwan in order to diversify its production base.

“We do a lot of our manufacturing here,” AMD’s Su told CNN. “Taiwan in particular is very important to the semiconductor ecosystem.”

Huang also touted his firm’s close ties with the island.

“We’ve been doing technology, doing engineering, and conducting business here in Taiwan for almost three decades, and we’re going to continue to do so,” he told CNN.

That said, the chip shortage during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the increasing strategic importance of the industry due to the rivalry between the US and China have prompted calls to revive chip manufacturing in America.

In 2022, US President Joe Biden signed the Chips and Science Act into law, aiming to boost domestic production of chips, which stands at about 10% of the global supply, and reducing reliance on Asia for the most advanced kind of chips needed for artificial intelligence technologies.

Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, told CNN at a media briefing that there has been a “manufacturing resurgence” after the bill was signed.

“We have great respect for the ecosystem here in Taiwan … But the world needs more geographically balanced and resilient supply chain, and I think it’s starting to take shape,” he said.

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