back to article US Army journal's top paper from 2021 says Taiwan should destroy TSMC if China invades

A top US Army War College paper suggests Taiwan should credibly threaten to eradicate its semiconductor industry if threatened by China so that Beijing would no longer be interested in unification. The US Army War College showed the paper was its most popular of the year, when it revealed it topped a list of the most …

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  1. John Sager

    I'm not convinced. China's need to re-absorb Taiwan is deeply idealogical rather than motivated by economic considerations. I expect a Punic Wars solution with all of Taiwan salted and unliveable would be acceptable to Beijing, and certainly dear old Not Omicron or Nu.

    What does that say about US warfighters' insight.

    1. llaryllama

      There is no "re-absorption" involved as Taiwan has never been under control of the PRC. In fact Taiwan's links with China are tenuous at best with barely 200 of dynastic Chinese governance in Taiwan's tens of thousands of years of human settlement.

      I'm actually very happy to see the original article was edited from "re-unified" to "unified" - a small but important point as "re-unified" is a loaded term and the actual direct translation from the term "tong yi" used by China is simply "unification".

      1. Bartholomew Bronze badge
        Joke

        There is no way that any sensible person would ever think that the "Republic of China" (Taiwan) was in any way connected to the "People's Republic of China" (China). One of them by it's very name tells you that it is full of communist!

        1. N13L5

          I don't know - I'd prefer AI to rule the place.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The current majority in Taiwan has nothing to do with the original settlers though.

        The island was basically invaded by mainlanders in 1949, the defeated ROCarmy established its own dictatorship and pushed natives out of the way in a very ungentle way, then worked hard at assimilating them, whether they wanted it or not.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The island was basically invaded by mainlanders in 1949,

          Some very unpleasant things certainly went on. However, it is not clear to me that whatever reparations the original local/native population of Taiwan might deserve, that that process would be helped in any way by a PRC invasion, followed by government by communist dictatorship.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The island was basically invaded by mainlanders in 1949,

            Oddly enough, the indigenous population and communities are now touted as a tourism "must see".

        2. JBowler

          Rewriting history is, of course, the prerogative of the winner.

          The "ROCarmy" was acknowledged as the rightful government of the whole of China only while it remained convenient to the rest of us. The dispute over who should govern the whole of China - not just mainland - still divides the island's politics. That's sort of acknowledged in your post yet you hide it.

          The Han had lived in Formosa for many years before that and the Han had come to dominate the culture, under various other control; the Portuguese (who give the island its name), the Dutch, the Japanese (who were ousted after a military settlement that assigned ownership of the island to China).

          Yes, the Han are extremely racist, but nothing on a scale with we Christians. The course of racial discrimination in the east seems, to me, to mirror that of the same behavior in my own, carefully circumscribed, country the US, yet the excesses are not worse; that would be difficult to achieve.

          1. llaryllama

            Re: Rewriting history is, of course, the prerogative of the winner.

            I'm not sure that many people living in western countries (including overseas Chinese) understand just how racist China as a whole really is. The idea of Chinese (Han) blood being intertwined with China as a country and the CCP is written into law. For example you could be a third generation descendant of Chinese great grandparents with no PRC nationality and only a UK passport but you will be treated differently under certain laws compared with a foreign visitor of non Han ethnicity. Could you imagine the UK or US saying in 2022 that white people get reduced school fees or anglo saxons have a special route to citizenship? To be fair this is also the case in Taiwan but the laws are slowly changing here.

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        unification = invasion

        Let's just call it what it IS: "Invasion" (not "unification")

        [When Germany did this to France in 1940 we called it what it was.]

        Using "their term" is a bit like Chamberlain's appeasement policy isn't it?

        This sounds to me like offshore production needs to move back ON shore, ASAP.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: unification = invasion

          If mainland china really wanted unification, there is one way they could possibly achieve it with no bloodshed.

          The current communist party mainland government just has to dissolve itself and invite the Taiwan government to take over administration of the mainland. Assuming the Taiwanese government is interested, unification is achieved peacefully.

          Probably not what the CCP really has in mind though when they talk about unification.

        2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: unification = invasion

          I think we can all see what even the most "peaceful" takeover of Taiwan would look like by looking at Hong Kong. The PCR would sign a treaty, then start violating it and engaging in mafia-like behavior.

          China, like many other authoritarian regimes such as Russia, use Rule by Law to subjugate their people. Ruly by Law is where laws are passed that are so vaguely worded that in conjunction with a subjugated judiciary, can be used as a weapon against any citizen for any reason if they displease the regime. Anyone who questions the regime is hit with charges against laws so vague & presumption of guilt is the default so that innocence impossible.* This is the exact opposite of Rule of Law where the arbitrary exercise of power is subordinated to well-defined and established laws interpreted by an independent judiciary.

          The West should simply decimate all foundries in Taiwan the second the PRC acts militarily against Taiwan no matter how small the act.

          1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

            Re: unification = invasion

            * "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” — Cardinal Richelieu in 1641

      4. Jonjonz

        Some people are simply ignorant of history.

        China could care less about Taiwan for centuries until China had a civil war where the leader of the losing side escaped to Taiwan and set up his own version of China there eventually named the Republic of China. The CCP goes apoplectic at the mention of the Republic of China (hence why the name Taiwan is used) and threatens world nuclear holocaust any time it is brought up.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Could care less?

          Surely you mean "Couldn't care less", which would indicate they didn't give a shit about it.

          Could care less would indicate the opposite.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Thanks - great point and insight

        A word here and word there - we learn from history. Thanks.

      6. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Mushroom

        The CPC wants Taiwan as a prize. It can be a barren uninhabited island covered in craters of radioactive glass and they'd be happy.

        Taiwan is a beacon of democratic resistance to the communist dictatorship. That alone is enough to damn them. Hong Kong, Tibet, the Urghars, the South China Sea (and many others), all ground under the heel of a despot nation to prove their superiority.

        Every nation on Earth should recognize Taiwan as an independent country and place Red China under the heaviest of sanctions until the CPC amend their ways for the better.

        Typing those words in China would subject me to a three year jail sentence.

    2. big_D Silver badge
      Facepalm

      As of 2025, it would mean that China would hold most of the cards, if Taiwan destroyed its fabs.

      The West would still need chips and the build-up of capacity in China would leave them sitting pretty to pick up the pieces, even if their tech was artificially restricted due to trade embargoes before the action. Larger processes are better than no processes.

      And the engineers? Unless they go up in smoke, along with the factories, expect them to be forced to work for Chinese foundaries.

      Also, an automated system to destroy the factories? What could possibly go wrong?

      I think the whole paper is very short sighted and ignored many obvious facts, especially that this has nothing to do with technology, directly.

      1. Triggerfish

        It strikes me they destroy all their chip manufacturing and they lose the reason countries may be interested in defending them.

    3. david 12

      Nobody (other than readers here) has ever suggest that the motive for unification is economic.

      Even the article you are responding to doesn't make that claim about the paper: The Register reports and the paper take the position that, lacking a burnt-earth policy, an invasion would be economically neutral: that chip factories would continue to supply China as they do now.

      The suggestion, which is credible, is that economic penalties might discourage invasion.

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

        "The suggestion, which is credible, is that economic penalties might discourage invasion."

        HARDLY! I think the Chinese could care less about economic consequences.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Probably removing foreign airbases from their shore comes first, followed by having control over the seas between Japan/Korea and the Phillipines. Preventing their citizens getting the idea that China could live without the communist party comes third. Economics come last and they might be prepared to ride out 20 years of sanctions from the rest of the world.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Don't you mean "couldn't care less" which means "don't give a shit about it" which I assume you mean from the context of your statement.

          Could care less would mean the opposite.

          Are you an American? I have seen this could/couldn't care less thing a few times in books by American authors and it has puzzled me.

      2. llaryllama

        You can't truly understand how irrational China can and will be about the "face" aspect of Taiwan until you have had an argument with a Chinese neighbor or driver.

        If Xi thought he could mostly get away with it and avoid causing too much damage to the Chinese mainland he would quite happily nuke the whole island and a large percentage of the PRC masses would cheer him on. There is a phrase commonly passed around message boards in China that loosely translates to "keep the island, not the people". As far Chinese are concerned Taiwan is Unfinished Business with the Japanese and to some degree America/the West in general.

    4. Jaybus

      "China's need to re-absorb Taiwan is deeply idealogical rather than motivated by economic considerations. "

      I doubt that. All previous land grabs in human history have been over money and power. Why would this one be different?

      1. ShortLegs

        The PRCs 'desire' to grab Taiwan goes back before Taiwan became an economic success, way before TMSC.

        The Chinese view it very differently to us. For them, it is not invasion or [re-] unification, it is pulling an upstat province that illegally left the PRC back into the fold.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Taiwan was never part of the PRC. It has never been governed by the CCP. It may have been part of China when the Kuomintang was in power. Then they simply moved there and continued to govern after losing the mainland to the CCP. So if anything, the mainland is the breakaway territory that usurped the then government.

      2. llaryllama

        I'm Taiwanese and the above quote is 110% correct. China would absolutely nuke Taiwan and leave it an empty radioactive wasteland if they were completely sure it wouldn't backfire and cause internal unrest. They can't be completely sure and that's the only thing that's stopping them.

  2. elDog

    How many of those downloads came from the PRC?

    Just asking.

    I used to write scenarios for brass (military and non). They are a dime a dozen (well, more like $1M per). Should be taken with grains of salt. However sometimes one of these scenarios is latched onto by someone with too much authority and frequently not enough brains and becomes some form of reality.

  3. Bitsminer Bronze badge

    No, not TSMC

    PRC wants repatriation of Stinky tofu (臭豆腐). Nothing less will do.

    (If you've never tasted/endured it, you are now forewarned.)

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Trollface

      Stinky tofu ?

      You mean to say that there's a version of tofu that actually tastes like something ?

  4. Alan J. Wylie

    an automated mechanism to destroy the foundries

    Dr. Strangelove would be proud. Taiwan needs to be carefully considering its Power Over Ethernet vulnerabilities

    (I'll get my coat)

    1. Blazde Silver badge
      Boffin

      Dr. Strangelove would be proud

      Like the Swedish, what the Taiwanese really need is a credible plan to fill in their mine-shafts! I'll get writing a paper at once..

    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      I believe it was Dimitri that was quite proud?

    3. Fr. Ted Crilly

      Oh no my CRM 114 descrimonator in INOP

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the automated mechanism is already in place... 1 in 3 mssiles they buy has pre-programmed coords... we place no bets on who is in control afterwards, and we dont want our fingerprints on scorched earth

  5. Ian Mason

    US Army plans to destroy world economy.

    "US Army journal's top paper from 2021 says Taiwan should destroy TSMC if China invades"

    And then watch the Western economy tank as the world supply of all the many various vendor's chips TSMC manufacture for them dries up. One only has to watch what's happening at the moment with semiconductor shortages to get a flavour of that. TSMC has a 50% market share of the total world silicon foundry market, heavily biased toward the more crucial high density and low power areas of the market.

    In other news, Pinocchio cuts off his own nose to spite his face.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

      More crucial only for gaming PCs and smartphones - not for military kit or power parts.

      The current semiconductor shortage that is crippling industry isn't a shortage of 3090 graphics cards or other 5nm parts

      1. Ian Mason

        Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

        No it’s not, and if you think that a company that represents 50% of the world’s fab capacity is just turning out “3090 graphics cards or other 5nm parts” then you’ve got a rather poor grasp of what the semiconductor industry produces.

      2. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

        5nm parts currently account for about 14% of TSMCs revenue, and as this is a fairly new node. these will likely still be higher margin parts, so actual % of production will likely be quite a bit less.

        7nm is around 35% of revenue (the largest single node by revenue). All other revenue (51%) is from 16nm through to 90nm+. TSMC make a lot of chips other than high end CPUs, high voltage, high thermal, hardened, radio silicon etc. Also the 16nm and bigger is likely to be low margin bulk items, so to get that 51% revenue, this likely accounts for a much larger % of the silicon produced compared to 7nm and 5nm.

        Also just for ref, Nvidia 3000 series cards use 8nm chip from Samsung, nothing to do with TSMC.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

      Perhaps this indicates a problem with too many eggs in one basket and shows that the world needs more diverse fab capacity.

      There are other reasons TSMC has had supply problems already. COVID, lack of water, earthquakes, etc.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: the world needs more diverse fab capacity

        And that is happening. There are a dozen fabs that are supposed to start being built this year, and more have been declared to be on the way all over the world.

    3. fredblogggs Bronze badge

      Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

      You seem to be assuming that China invading Taiwan wouldn't be a disaster of epic proportions regardless. The "best" plausible outcome is one in which the invasion is so rapid, total, and successful that no opposition is possible; in that case TSMC's output will be reserved for China and everyone else (i.e., that "Western economy" you're worried about) will either get nothing or pay a premium price for heavily restricted supply. There are messier outcomes that lead to multilateral global war. always a sunny prospect. I'm afraid I don't see an outcome for Western economies that's appreciably better than the total annihilation of Taiwan's entire industrial base. The only thing I don't understand about this paper is why it was necessary to publish it; I'd have assumed this was already Taiwan's plan and that they had quietly made sure China was well aware of it. Denial of resources to an invading enemy isn't exactly a novel concept in warfare.

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

      And, with China ramping up investment in its own fabs, it would be in a key position to benefit from such a strategy, plus it would have all the talent that produced those chips, as they wouldn't be allowed to leave Taiwan after the invasion...

      They'd have the rest of the world over the proverbial barrel.

      I'd give the paper a very charitable E-.

    5. Glen 1

      Re: US Army plans to destroy world economy.

      "In other news, Pinocchio cuts off his own nose to spite his face."

      Its not like that doesn't have any precedent.

      Look at Brexit. Now look at the folk who think Brexit didn't go far *enough*

  6. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Almost A Perfect Plan...

    But only if the USA could possibly benefit from this heroic self-sacrificial scorched earth plan...

    .

    Mind you I thought the Swedes were famous for supplying steel balls to Germany during the late unpleasantness. They were after all, neutral.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Almost A Perfect Plan...

      Yes. And neutral Switzerland stashed quite a lot of stolen gold for the Nazis. Russia was in a pact with Hitler, until Hitler foolishly attacked. And neutral USA profited from selling weaponry to UK, until USA was attacked. And then kept on profiting. And UK fought hard to keep its empire. Not at all for profits.

      1. Alan J. Wylie

        Re: Almost A Perfect Plan...

        Sweden provided ball bearings to the UK, too. The Ball Bearing Run

        Don't forget IBM and the Holocaust

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: Almost A Perfect Plan...

          All of that was a LONG time ago.

          The lesson is to NOT REPEAT THE SAME MISTAKES NOW.

          1. Justthefacts Bronze badge

            Re: Almost A Perfect Plan.

            Not repeat the same mistakes?

            Don’t use the Crimea in a proxy war between the Great Powers?

            Don’t democratically vote in a facist dictator?

            Never start a land war in Asia…..particularly during the Russian winter?

            Don’t attempt to impose economic hardship and blockades on your tier1 economic power neighbour, just because you think you “won” a recent struggle?

            Avoid hyper-inflation in Germany?

            Don’t ignore forced labour camps of racial minorities, for “realpolitik” reasons?

            I’m not sure that the past few years convinces me those lessons are being listened to very much.

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