Asia, Business & trade, New in Lobbying, US-China tensions

Taiwan chipmaker hires former top Kerry aide to protect China sales

Taiwan microchip giant MediaTek‘s US subsidiary has hired a former chief of staff for President Joe Biden‘s climate envoy John Kerry to help navigate US restrictions on technology sales to China, home to some of the company’s biggest customers.

San Jose-based MediaTek USA hired Washington government affairs firm Plurus Strategies effective April 1 to lobby on issues related to “semiconductor investment and manufacturing initiatives, export controls and foreign direct investment, the semiconductor supply chain for consumer technologies,” as well as US-Taiwan trade relations.

Registered to lobby on the account is Plurus president David Leiter, who served as chief of staff to Kerry from 1991 to 1997 when he represented Massachusetts in the US Senate. Leiter was also a deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the US Department of Energy during the Bill Clinton administration. Plurus vice president Georgette Kerr and legislative assistant Claire Washburn are also lobbying on the account.

The lobbying push comes as MediaTek has sought US permission to continue selling chips to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, Reuters reported. Last summer, the Donald Trump administration began requiring suppliers to obtain a special license if they want to continue selling chips made using US technology to the Chinese firm.

Fearing massive declines in revenue, MediaTek began lobbying the US shortly after the tightened sanctions.

MediaTek USA’s in-house lobbying arm has spent nearly $300,000 since first registering under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) in October 2020. Patrick Wilson, a former director of government affairs for the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) who most recently led the Commerce Department’s Office of Business Liaison under President Trump, leads the effort.

Last October the company also hired The Durberstein Group to lobby on trade and semiconductor policy. Duberstein’s registration was terminated on March 31 after six months and $150,000.

MediaTek’s battle against US sanctions contrasts with Taiwan’s other major chip producer, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Despite being one of the world’s biggest contract chipmaker and a major provider to Huawei, TSMC complied with US restrictions and dropped the Chinese company as a client last year.

MediaTek by contrast has navigated US-China tensions by selling more smartphone supplies to Huawei and its smartphone rivals Xiaomi, Oppo and Realme. The company became the top seller in China last year at the expense of US chipmaker Qualcomm, whose smartphone chip shipments dropped almost 50 % last year because of US sanctions on Huawei, according to CNBC.

The US crackdown on Chinese companies has led other Huawei suppliers to seek lobbying help.

China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) hired its first firm to lobby on the companies ability “to import US-origin semiconductor-related goods under US export control laws.” TSMC also stepped up its lobbying, spending $2.5 million since registering an in-house lobbying arm in the beginning of 2020.


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