Silicon Armour

By Paul

January 23, 2023

There’s lots of sabre-rattling around the world. Rwanda has been accused of supporting the M23 rebel group making trouble in the eastern Congo.

Japan and Russia are tussling over islands to the north of Japan. Russia has claimed them; Japan says they have control over them. Not to mention Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

China has already removed the democratic safeguards put in place by the British for Hong Kong; it’s essentially under total Chinese control. 

China would like to unite the mainland with Taiwan. They call it the “One China” policy. China has held naval exercises near the shore of Taiwan to reinforce this policy.  

Taiwan is currently a democracy with an elected president. Its political parties are divided in two camps; one that wants to fully unite with China and the other that promotes a unique Taiwanese identity which would include formal recognition as an independent country by the international community.

What I couldn’t understand, with their vast military superiority, why China doesn’t just invade Taiwan and get it over with? There would be the usual condemnation from countries like the United States, Canada and the European communities, but there’d be no “boots on the ground” to back that up, would there? I can’t imagine it would be any different than when Russia overran Crimea in 2015. But then again, look how that’s ended up.

Then I heard a program on the BBC which made sense of it for me.

Anyone who has shopped for a new or used car in the last two years has heard about the “chip shortage”. Microchips are used more and more in today’s vehicles for controlling everything from fuel management to entertainment systems. When the pandemic hit, vehicle manufacturers cancelled their chip orders, and the chip manufacturers pivoted to more lucrative home electronic products. When things returned to some semblance of normal, the chip production was spoken for and the vehicle manufacturers couldn’t get back in the queue.

Who makes the best microchips in the world? A company called TSMC. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company makes the most sophisticated chips in the world. Samsung and Intel are in the top three in manufacturing chips, but TSMC is the leader.

Chips are a tricky business. Much of the design work for chips is done outside of Taiwan. For example, Apple designs their own chips. But they don’t make them. They outsource them to companies like TSMC. But TSMC gathers materials from about 18 countries around the world to actually make the chips. They then send the finished chips to places in China, southeast Asia and other manufacturing centres throughout the world to build the finished products.

If there’s any interruption to the supply of chips by TSMC, there’d be no iPhones, no cars built, no computers, no automated vacuum cleaners, no televisions and on and on. As usual, let's follow the money. If the Chinese are anything, they’re good business people. It would cost their economy dearly if TSMC had any problems. All those assembly factories would grind to a halt. And do you think that companies like Apple, Microsoft, General Motors, Amazon and Google wouldn’t put pressure on the U.S. government to intervene? Not to mention Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen and other chip users that couldn’t build their products because China invaded Taiwan? What's the likelihood of TSMC being able to carry on with business as usual when their country is at war? Pretty small.

Ironically, it’s not guns, aircraft and military personnel that keep Taiwan from being invaded. It’s chips. Silicon chips that power the electronics of today’s consumer society. The ones that have fuelled China’s rise to be the second largest economy in the world.

Would they dare disrupt the flow of goods around the world? I imagine that there’s already been back-channel conversations between the powers-that-be about a Taiwan invasion. And since it takes years to develop a chip manufacturing facility and its staff it so it can produce the best chips, TSMC and Taiwan will remain safe for the foreseeable future.

We get some stunning sunrises in addition to all the amazing sunsets.

Winter sunrise 2023


January 23, 2023
Be sure to check out Dana's blog, Time to Write. I like to think I'm a pretty good writer. Dana is an AMAZING writer.
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}