Off to war over chips?

Why did the U.S. risk nuclear war over an idiotic trip by Nancy Pelosi, American Senate Speaker, to Taiwan?

The Chinese warned the world they would shoot down Pelosi’s plane with all the aircraft was carrying at the moment. Obviously, cooler heads prevailed in Beijing, but still: what if the decision made by the Forbidden City poohbahs didn’t make it to the local anti-aircraft station commander? That poor soul, relying upon the national news agency New China (Xinhua) or the main communist newspaper, People’s Daily (Rénmín Rìbào), would give the order to push the button. And then what?

All that for tiny pieces of silicon – the second most common element in the Earth’s crust.

These tiny pieces of silicon, processed properly, becomes a computer chip (a.k.a. chip for short), defined as integrated circuit or small wafer of semiconductor material embedded with integrated circuitry. That’s where the processing and memory units of the modern digital computer come from.

Chip-making is an extremely precise process. It usually happens in a “clean room.” Even microscopic contamination could make the product useless.

So, here’s one reply to questions about Mme. Pelosi’s recklessness: the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) make about 60 per cent of global chip output. Not only that. In the field of top chip technology, this company have the rest of the world cornered: they make some 90 per cent of the most advanced chips.

Computers, including smartphones, cars that take us from home to work and back, airplanes, banks, most technology we use in everyday life, and all technology today’s world uses for warfare, they all depend on those tiny pieces of silicon.

Granted, Taiwan is not the sole inventor of new and newer chips: there exists a huge network of designers as well as suppliers, but so far as production is concerned, TSMC is the place where most of them go to see their products made.

Too many people vs. too few?

Mainland China’s population stood at 1,450,871,938 as of Tuesday, August 2, 2022, population of Taiwan was announced as 23,906,098 as of Sunday, July 31, 2022. Yet, the island nation is a real thorn in mainland China’s side. And there’s not much People’s Republic’s communist rulers can do about it.

Defeated by communists led by Mao Zedong, General Chiang Kai-shek’s forces left mainland China, and established their own rule, calling the island of Taiwan Republic of China. The Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader, would end up serving as the leader till his death in 1975.

Mainland China would start calling herself People’s Republic of China. In comparison with her foe, she would become a poor relative, thanks to all kinds of hare-brained and ideologically driven policies. It would be only the current pragmatic leadership that would permit a strange concoction of communism and capitalism in mainland China that would bring the People’s Republic to super-power status.

Pelosi made all the right-sounding statements, such as saying that her trip confirms “America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.”

To drive the point home, she added, “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have none of that: the trip is “a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. joint communiqués.” Not only that: it will have “a severe impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations.”

The U.S., China’s official outlet thundered, is bound by a 1979 commitment in its Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with China.

That communiqué recognised the government of the People’s Republic of China “as the sole legal Government of China.”

Still, that particular document adds, “Within this context, the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.” Except, the People’s Republic view Mme. Pelosi’s jaunt to Taiwan as an official trip: she’s American Senate’s Speaker, after all. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that this trip would infringe on the “one-China policy” and that China would take “resolute measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity” if the visit proceeded.

Proceed it did, even with such rhetoric ringing in the air.

On one hand, the trip served to show that any nation is free to have whatever relationships with any other nations, on the other hand, this trip brought the world yet again to the brink of nuclear Armageddon.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is peanuts compared to this circus act.

Who owns whom?

Here’s the issue: Taiwan by herself is not much of a threat to the rest of the world. Too small. But, should the People’s Republic take over, and should she start blackmailing the rest of the world by saying, oh, no chips for you, or more chips for you, or by keeping all the chips for herself, it would be catastrophic. It may turn into an economic disaster for the People’s Republic, but ideology prevails over economy ten times out of ten.

Besides, there exists a serious precedent in history about People’s Republic’s willingness to shoot in anger. In the 1950s, throughout the 1960s, and beyond, whenever Taiwan’s military did something the People’s Republic didn’t like, they would issue serious warnings. Their wording structure would be the same: a brief description of yet another Taiwan’s earth-shattering misdeed, followed by words to the effect that the People’s Republic issues a warning. Those warnings were numbered. If memory serves, they got close to a thousand, may be even exceeded it, and they were either serious, or very serious, or most serious.

These warnings would become welcome fodder for stand-up comedians. But times have changed: today’s People’s Republic is much stronger than she used to be, and not many politicians are capable of grasping it. In fact, some American pundits see the fact that Mme. Pelosi survived the trip as an obvious sign that the People’s Republic is a paper tiger. They stole the expression from Mao Zedong, and they might regret it sooner rather than later.

So, why did Nancy Pelosi go to Taiwan?

If she was serious, it would have been because of the semiconductors, an item she never mentioned in any of her public pronouncements.

But, here’s something else to ponder: Mme. Pelosi could have had her eyes set on the 25th Amendment (the Americans prefer Roman numerals: Amendment XXV). This part of U.S. Constitution deals with the grim reality of a President unable to run the country. It provides a number of options: if this happens, then that must happen, etc. The words: Speaker of the Senate appear there, too.

And should that unthinkable happen, that would be a real tragedy.

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