Taiwan, semiconductor manufacture and the US conflict with China

Desy Papper

A rash of op-ed comments, reports and warnings in Washington over the past month have raised the danger of a catastrophic war between the United States and China over Taiwan in the not-too-distant future. All the increasingly bellicose anti-China propaganda—accusing Beijing of planning to invade Taiwan—ignores Washington’s provocative actions in […]

A rash of op-ed comments, reports and warnings in Washington over the past month have raised the danger of a catastrophic war between the United States and China over Taiwan in the not-too-distant future. All the increasingly bellicose anti-China propaganda—accusing Beijing of planning to invade Taiwan—ignores Washington’s provocative actions in deliberately stoking potentially the most explosive flashpoint in Asia.

The US is accelerating its confrontation with China, which began with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” and was intensified on all fronts under Trump. Any suggestion that Biden, who played an active role as vice-president in Obama’s “pivot” against China, would ease tensions has been rapidly dispelled.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, center, walks to her inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, May 20, 2020 (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)

Biden has elevated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad—a quasi-military alliance involving the US, Japan, Australia and India—by holding the first ever leaders’ meeting on March 12. The Quad summit was followed by an extraordinary altercation at a top-level meeting between US and Chinese officials in Alaska, provoked by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s castigation of China across a range of concocted issues.

Taiwan, however, has rapidly emerged as the focus of war tensions, eclipsing the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula. In testimony to the US Congress last month, the outgoing head of the Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson warned of a US war with China over Taiwan in the next six years. His replacement Admiral John Aquilino told his confirmation hearing that such a war was “much closer than most think.”

While Davidson and Aquilino warned of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, it is the US that is upsetting the fragile balance in the Taiwan Strait established in 1979 when Washington ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favour of relations with Beijing, which it recognised under the “One China” policy as the legitimate government of all China, including Taiwan. The US is building ties with Taiwan that fly in the face of the “One China” policy—previous restrictions on contact between US and Taiwanese officials have been junked and moves are being made for closer military collaboration.

Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US is committed to supplying Taiwan with supposedly defensive weaponry, and a major expansion of sales took place under Trump. The Act also contained an ambiguous commitment by the US to support Taiwan militarily in a conflict with China. Anti-China hawks are pressing for the US to end this “strategic ambiguity” in favour of “strategic clarity”—that is, a guarantee akin to a military alliance to go to war with China over Taiwan.

All this poses a direct threat to China. Taiwan is just 130 kilometres from the Chinese mainland at its narrowest point. Small, heavily fortified, Taiwanese-controlled islets lie just kilometres from major Chinese cities. Beijing has repeatedly warned that it would use military force to reunify Taiwan if the government in Taipei ever declared formal independence from China—a step that could be encouraged by US guarantees of military and diplomatic support.

Next Post

U.S. needs to invest in semiconductor 'infrastructure,' Biden tells business leaders facing crippling shortages

The U.S. needs to address an ongoing shortage of semiconductors by investing in its chip “infrastructure,” President Joe Biden said during a virtual summit meeting with auto executives and other business leaders Monday afternoon. “These chips, these wafers … batteries, broadband — it’s all infrastructure. We need to build the […]