Chinese ruler Xi Jinping is not going to be deterred from invading Taiwan by the prospect of losing its semiconductor industry. He will take the island even if he has to make it a radioactive slab uninhabitable for a thousand years. (Image source: iStock)
America can save Taiwan from Chinese invasion by promising to destroy it, or at least its chipmaking capability, argues an article in Parameters, the U.S. Army War College's quarterly. In "Broken Nest: Deterring China from Invading Taiwan," Air University's Jared McKinney and Colorado State University's Peter Harris say that Taipei and Washington should make the island "unwantable."
"The United States and Taiwan should lay plans for a targeted scorched-earth strategy that would render Taiwan not just unattractive if ever seized by force, but positively costly to maintain," they write in the U.S. Army War College's most-downloaded paper of 2021. "This could be done most effectively by threatening to destroy facilities belonging to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the most important chipmaker in the world and China's most important supplier."
McKinney and Harris explain their title by citing a Chinese proverb: "Beneath a broken nest, how can there be any whole eggs?"
Americans design the world's fastest chips but make none of them.
Taiwan does. The island is by far the world's leader in the manufacture of semiconductors. One firm, TSMC, as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is known, makes more than half of the planet's made-to-order chips and about 90% of its advanced processors. TSMC and Samsung Electronics are the only two companies that can produce 5-nanometer chips, the most advanced anywhere.
"Today, if you control access to microchips then you can control the world," writes Bob Anderson on the Federalist site. Taiwan is so important that people there talk about their semiconductor industry providing a "silicon shield" against a Chinese invasion.
The shield argument, whether made by Taiwanese or Americans, is wishful thinking. Yes, Beijing has spectacularly failed to develop its own semiconductor industry and, yes, China is critically reliant on Taiwan's chips. Yet Chinese ruler Xi Jinping is not going to be deterred by the prospect of losing TSMC or, for that matter, all of Taiwan's semiconductor industry. He will take the island even if he has to make it a radioactive slab uninhabitable for a thousand years.
Early in his rule, Xi based his legitimacy on taking Taiwan. "Looking further ahead, the issue of political disagreements that exist between the two sides must reach a final resolution, step by step, and these issues cannot be passed on from generation to generation," he declared in October 2013.
"China wanted Taiwan long before TSMC was churning out chips, and would want it even if TSMC had never existed," Michael Turton, a long-term Taiwan resident and Taipei Times columnist, pointed out this month in a rebuttal to Broken Nest. "It wants Taiwan because, like Nazi Germany, it is an expansionist power driven by racist ideologies and racist history."
Moreover, McKinney and Harris are wrong on another fundamental point. They argue it would be hard to slow down Xi with conventional deterrence strategies.
The pair is wrong because, among other things, China's regime is extraordinarily casualty-averse. Xi knows that an invasion of the island would be unpopular among most Chinese citizens, especially if their sons or daughters were killed or maimed in the effort. Unless under extreme duress, he is not about to do anything that could lead to the end of Communist Party rule.
McKinney and Harris, therefore, totally miss the mark when they argue that an arms race with China would be counterproductive.
Richard Fisher, a China military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, tells Gatestone that it is possible for the United States to win such a contest with China. Fisher is correct. The Chinese military is arms-racing not just with the United States but with much of the region, especially Japan and Australia.
McKinney and Harris, although arriving at wrong conclusions, at least deserve credit for tackling one sensitive issue. "To be clear, there is no conceivable way that Taiwan or the U.S. could respond to a Chinese invasion without imposing costs and risks upon the people of Taiwan," they argue in the Taiwan News website. "This is an inescapable reality."
It is. The people of Taiwan, they write, "must start thinking about the unthinkable."
Moreover, so must Americans. What is now unthinkable to them?
That would be Taiwan in Beijing's hands. For more than a century, America has drawn its western defense perimeter off China's coast, and Taiwan is smack dab in the middle of that critical line, where the South China and East China Seas meet. Taiwan also protects the southern flank of America's "cornerstone" ally in East Asia, Japan.
Moreover, at a time when China's Communist Party is attacking democracies, Washington cannot allow Beijing to absorb any one of them, even if it is not home to the world's leading chipmakers.
"Destroying Taiwan's democracy is essential to giving China's Communist Party license to destroy all other democracies," Fisher pointed out. "Killing Taiwan is the first but most necessary step toward hegemony."
If America came to the rescue of Taiwan, it would not be defending just the island; America would be defending itself.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, a Gatestone Institute distinguished senior fellow, and a member of its Advisory Board.