The U.S. Army War College journal, Parameter, recently published an article proposing an interesting strategy for Taiwan should it be invaded by China. While the strategy offers nothing militarily to defend the island against invasion, it argues it might give China pause to reconsider such aggression based on a suggested consequence by Taiwan of doing so. While China’s military superiority clearly enables it to steamroll its way across Taiwan to achieve victory, this strategy suggests Taiwan can make it a Pyrrhic one for Beijing.
Pyrrhic is a word deriving its meaning from a battle won by King Pyrrhus in early Greek history. While successfully defeating the Romans at the Battle of Asculum in 279 B.C., he lost so many men that he was unable to defeat Rome itself. Today, Pyrrhic defines a victory won but at tremendous cost to the victor. It is arguably the only strategy a brutal Chinese government might understand. This is because the proposed strategy would trigger a devastating setback on China’s economic rationale for invasion – one powered by Beijing’s expansionist mindset of both an aggressive and non-aggressive nature–the former targeting Taiwan and the latter evidenced by its successful “Belt & Road Initiative.”
This strategy links Taiwan’s greatest economic high-tech asset with China’s greatest economic high-tech deficiency: semiconductor manufacturing.
The global demand for semiconductors is tremendous. The breakdown of the world’s top 10 largest manufacturing companies shows six are American, two are South Korean, one is Japanese and one is Taiwanese. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC), boasting the world’s largest dedicated independent semiconductor foundry, is ranked fourth-largest. So demanding is the market, nations recognize the danger of relying on foreign manufacturers, prompting U.S. high-tech giant Intel to announce it will establish, at the cost of $20 billion, “the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet” in Ohio. Florida too is seeking to establish itself as a semiconductor manufacturing Mecca.
Semiconductors are basically Taiwan’s high-tech “pot of gold” equivalent as the country’s largest (33%) export. While mainland China has over 40 semiconductor manufacturing companies, none ranks among the world’s 10 largest. Its semiconductor demand, therefore, far exceeds its production, with Chinese manufacturers only able to meet 30% of the country’s requirements. Meanwhile, China accounts for 60% of the world’s consumption.
Largely due to semiconductor manufacturing, Taiwan’s economy grew by 2.98% in 2020, outpacing China’s growth at 2.3%. The last time the former’s economy grew faster than the latter’s was in 1990. The semiconductor industry has also helped Taiwan offset economic drags caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond the political reason of China claiming Taiwan as a province, Beijing undoubtedly sees invasion as an opportunity to help fulfill its semiconductor demand by capturing Taiwan’s semiconductor manufacturing capability.
Thus, the proposed strategy calls for Taiwan, in the face of a Chinese invasion, to immediately engage in a scorched-earth policy, destroying its own semiconductor industry.
However, China expert Gordon Chang disagrees this strategy will in any way deter China from invading the island. He argues China has long coveted Taiwan’s return as a province under its own umbrella and is motivated strategically to see it happen. Just like China has done with Hong Kong, Beijing knows its survival depends on reeling in the individual rights and freedoms of the Taiwanese to ensure all control flows from Beijing. Chang agrees with International Assessment and Strategy Center China military analyst Richard Fisher that, in any military confrontation, the U.S. could defeat China. Fisher says America must understand that, “Destroying Taiwan’s democracy is essential to giving China’s Communist Party license to destroy all other democracies.”
Concerning Taiwan, China’s President Xi Jinping is on a roll and knows his timing could not be better. Despite sufficient evidence indicating the coronavirus was unleashed upon the world from China’s Wuhan Laboratory, deflating the economies of numerous countries, Beijing’s was the only major world economy to grow in 2020. Xi has contempt for America’s weak leadership under President Joe Biden who is clay in the Chinese president’s hands, evidenced by Biden’s failure to even raise the coronavirus source issue with China. Xi also sees America’s political infighting and divisiveness as weakening its ability to respond to an invasion of Taiwan. Never before has a perfect storm of conditions been so ripe for China to reclaim Taiwan. Meanwhile, China is stockpiling strategic commodities as if it is going to war – ironically, with the U.S. as one of its largest suppliers.
Another factor possibly prompting Xi to invade Taiwan is timing it with a Russian invasion of Ukraine. A discombobulated Biden has already demonstrated, when it comes to foreign policy challenges, he is fully incapable of dealing with just one ball in the air, so two would be impossible. And, with China and Russia now working together as seen by their recent joint military training drill, the two countries would undoubtedly coordinate their invasions to split U.S. military assets in the unlikely event of an American military response. As the Russians continue moving troops westward and are in a position to invade at any time, some experts believe an invasion is “very likely.” What happens in Ukraine will not stay there as other aggressive states will seek to act while the iron is hot.
Another possible card to be played is Iran. U.S. sanctions against it have resulted in Tehran and Moscow becoming trading partners. They are also military allies in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, seeking to offset the impact of U.S. sanctions, Iran has recently developed closer ties with China. The mullahs could coordinate their own hostile actions to coincide with those of Russia and/or China, creating additional problems for the U.S. in the Middle East.
The opening line of the 1859 Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities” fits the foreign policy decision-making environment in a chaotic world today: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” For autocratic world community members with designs on expansion, it is clearly the best of times; for democratic global community members hoping for American protection against them, it is the worst.
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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.