Email of the day on asymmetric risks
Comment of the Day

December 30 2020

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on asymmetric risks

"SMIC could be blocked from 7nm or more advanced technology while overseas rivals like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. dominate the market."

​With the massive importance of semiconductors, one wonders if this alone could be the trigger that leads to China invading Taiwan - and the Third World War!

Eoin Treacy's view

Thank you for this question which raises an important topic. Semiconductors are a major choke point for China’s goals of achieving and sustaining global hegemony. Therefore, they will do whatever is necessary to secure supply lines. There are only a limited number of ways that can be achieved. Domestic manufacturing is difficult, time consuming and expensive. However, they are certainly pursuing this goal by funding new companies, attracting talent from overseas and developing next generation technologies like quantum computing.

Since buying the required technology is now contentious, the next solution would be to take it. China’s pattern of broad-spectrum industrial espionage is well understood and has been going on for decades. Efforts are likely to be redoubled as access to legitimate means of acquisition become more difficult.

Subverting the integrity of the coalition that is denying access is also likely to be a key component of any strategy. That suggests China will deploy diplomatic, trade and other tactics to sway South Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese governments to align with its best interests. It is only in so far that those efforts fail that an invasion of Taiwan would be likely to get the go ahead.

The one thing that is worth considering is China has not fought a ground war in 40 years. None of the current senior military have gotten dirt on their boots. In fact, the last surviving generals with war experience were purged in the early days of Xi’s reign. It is often the politicians with the least military experience who crave the glory of war most.

It is currently in China’s interests to play the long game despite the more assertive attitude adopted over the last decade. Meanwhile, for the USA the best chance of success in containing China lies in acting quickly by pressing its current military advantage. At some stage the calculus will reach a point of no return. At that point conflict will become much more likely.

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