US Military Journal Suggests Taiwan Should Destroy Its Semiconductor Industry To Deter Chinese Invasion Plan

A new deterrence strategy proposed by American scholars has turned the argument of Chinese plans to invade Taiwan on its head.

A paper, titled ‘Broken Nest: Deterring China from Invading Taiwan’ written by Jared McKinney and co-authored by Peter Harris in US Army War College’s quarterly academic journal Parameters, has urged Taipei to follow a “scorched earth policy” and destroy its semiconductor industry if China decided to invade Taiwan.

It was the most downloaded academic paper of 2021 from Parameters, reported The Register. The authors urged that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the biggest chipmaker in the world and the largest chip supplier for Beijing, should be destroyed.

McKinney is the chair of the Department of Strategy and Security Studies at the eSchool of Graduate Professional Military Education, Air University, and co-author Peter Harris is an associate professor of political science at Colorado State University.

Taiwan semiconductor
A TSMC lab. (Wikimedia Commons)

McKinney and Harris argued that destroying the semiconductor industry would make the island “unwantable” for China and thus it would not be logical for Beijing to seize it by force.

“The views do not necessarily represent those of Air University or the US Air Force”, McKinney said.

“Samsung, based in US ally South Korea, would be the only alternative for cutting-edge designs. If TSMC went offline, China’s high-tech industries would be immobilized at precisely the same time the nation was embroiled in a massive war effort”, the authors said.

“Even when the formal war ended, the economic costs would persist for years”, the paper suggests. It also argues that a scenario such as this can also “hurt the legitimacy” of the Chinese Communist Party.

According to the authors, the challenge at hand was to make sure that the threat is credible and China believes it.  “An automatic mechanism might be designed, which would be triggered once an invasion was confirmed. Despite a huge Chinese effort for a ‘Made in China’ chip industry, only 6% of semiconductors used in China were produced domestically in 2020”, the paper elaborated.

File Image: A Chinese nuclear submarine. (via Twitter)

China Slams Research Paper

The report evoked a strong response from China. On December 23, the website of the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office posted an article stating that “the mainland’s pursuit of cross-strait reunification is definitely not for TSMC”.

Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), has been a self-governed island following the ouster of Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist government in 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party.

PLA Air Force J-20 fighter jets patrol in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. (via Twitter)

Beijing follows the ‘One-China Policy’ under which it claims Taiwan as a part of mainland China. The ROC is also open to reunification; however, it does not agree to do so under Communist rule.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has set a goal of 14 hours to successfully conduct the invasion of Taiwan while it would take around 24 hours for the US and Japan to respond, according to a Chinese analyst who has links with the PLA Navy.

Fresh Approach

The deterrence strategy proposed by the American scholars might sound controversial, however, it has been proposed keeping in mind that traditional deterrence strategies such as deploying American warships in the Taiwan Strait may be insufficient in order to discourage Beijing from taking action against the island state.

“If this scenario is close to being accurate, China’s government might well be inclined to attempt a fait accompli as soon as it is confident in its relative capabilities”, McKinney and Harris wrote in the paper.

The US has also blacklisted a number of Chinese technology companies in its efforts to hinder the communist nation’s ambitions. HPC, Quantum, telco, chipmakers Stelco are some of the firms which have been added to the Entity List by the US in recent years.

This means that US firms and also those which use US technology are prohibited from doing business with any of these companies. Facing these sanctions, China has been working hard in order to step up its domestic chip production, according to Data Center Dynamics.

Contingency Plans

The paper proposed that the US and its allies could chalk out contingency plans in order to quickly carry out the evacuation of highly skilled Taiwanese professionals who are working in this sector and provide them refuge and at the same time ensure that China does not get its hands on the key chip-making industry.

The authors also acknowledged that this strategy may not sit well with the Taiwanese. However, they backed their proposition by saying that “the costs will be far less devastating to the people of Taiwan than the US threat of great power war, which would see massive and prolonged fighting in, above, and beside Taiwan”.

Chinese PLA conducts an amphibious landing exercise.

In a conversation with Nikkei Asia, McKinney said that the plan “brings the economic instrument of power into the deterrence argument and that it offers an alternative to fighting a great power war at a location 5,000 miles west of Hawaii, a prohibitively difficult proposition”.

“If the US and Taiwan wish to deter China from invading, then they should look for means of doing so that do not rely on the threat of US military reprisals. Relying exclusively on military threats is becoming less credible and thus more dangerous”, Harris said

Meanwhile, the paper also suggests making efforts for convincing Beijing of the “considerable advantages” to maintaining the status quo.

“Washington must restate in unambiguous terms the status of Taiwan is undetermined, that the United States has no plans to support independent statehood for Taiwan, and it will not seek to shift the status quo using grey-zone tactics that violate the spirit of Sino-American rapprochement”, the authors wrote in the paper.