This is Part 2 of the QuickHit episode on “Will China invade Taiwan?” with Chris Balding and Albert Marko. In this second part, the guys discussed Hong Kong, the semiconductor industry, and possible actions by the Biden administration. Tony Nash is hosting this show where the two experts discuss likely possibilities for China, Taiwan and other countries that may be affected by the conflict between the two countries like the US, Japan, and South Korea.
In Part 1, we looked at the plausibility of China invading Taiwan and what that might look like. In Part 2, we look at is Hong Kong a precedent for China potentially taking over Taiwan? We also look at the global semiconductor industry and firms like TSMC. What kind of impact would Chinese action on Taiwan have toward TSMC and also how would we expect the US to react and what would the different reactions do to US credibility in East Asia?
You can watch the Part 1 here: https://www.completeintel.com/2021/01/27/quickhit-will-china-invade-taiwan-1/
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This QuickHit episode was recorded on January 26, 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this Chinese invasion of Taiwan QuickHit episode are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Complete Intelligence. Any content provided by our guests are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any political party, religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
CB: What you’re saying about body bags makes perfect sense. Is Xi that directly rational? Because it would seem like there would be a better way to handle Hong Kong than what has taken place?
AM: Hong Kong was a little financial center with no military, no nothing. There’s just a bunch of woke millennials running around, thinking they can hold off the PLA. That doesn’t work like that in real life. You got to come at them with guns to earn your freedom. It was a circle by China. It was inevitable.
TN: Since ‘97, there hasn’t been a question as to whether Hong Kong is China. Hong Kong is China. And people have shrugged their shoulders since ‘97 and said look, it’s China. It’s a matter of time. It’s a special zone.
CB: Maybe my meaning was lost a little bit. The cost-benefit of what Xi has done in China or in Hong Kong, he clearly probably could have reaped more benefit by saying we’re gonna let Hong Kong continue to be Hong Kong for another 10 years or something. There wasn’t really a need for him to move. It’s probably going to create bigger problems internationally. There’s probably assets that are going to move out of Hong Kong and other places, Singapore. So what if we look at a strict cost-benefit, there wasn’t really a reason for Xi to do that.
TN: There was. The protests that would come, first every five years, then every two years, and so on, it was becoming increasingly embarrassing to Beijing. The official channel to as an inward or outbound investment lane through Hong Kong, it’s still there. But Beijing couldn’t take the embarrassment of this and what they didn’t want is to have some rogue police brigade kill a bunch of 25-year-olds on accident. I believe they had to pull the trigger and I think this has been planned and architected over years and it seems like something sudden that people are like “wait, what’s going on?” They’re rolling military and this has been planned for years.
CB: What you’re getting at is this was embarrassing domestically and he basically said to hell with the consequences internationally? If we apply that same basic line of thinking to Taiwan, the question would then become, well, they’re willing to deal with the international consequences. We know that in colossal range barriers. What other domestic issues are at play here about Taiwan?
TN: I think it’s backwards. It was more embarrassing internationally because the CCP plays international media like a fiddle. Xi Jinping goes into Davos or speaks at a WEF event. Everyone walks away, enlightened and they play international media like a fiddle. They were less worried about what international media would think and even less worried about what domestic populations would think over time.
They just needed to rip the band-aid off so that kind of righteous reporters in Hong Kong wouldn’t keep raising this story because it’s inconvenient. They knew that at some point, they were going to take over, and so they just did it and that it’s inevitable that’s going to happen. They just did it.
And global media? They’ve fallen in line over the last nine months. Nobody talks about Hong Kong anymore and the rights and being trampled upon and all that stuff. International media have fallen in line on this. They don’t care. They want to make China happy. Why? Because the CCP and their companies are going to buy supplements in their newspapers and in their online forums and they’re going to pay for their think tank pieces and all that stuff.
CB: There are specific media outlets that are decidedly less critical of China than they used to be as an editorial line.
AM: I agree and I love that analogy of like ripping the band-aid off because Hong Kong was ripping a band-aid off but Taiwan would be like ripping duct tape off a Greek guy’s chest. That’s the problem here, and that’s what we think we have to understand that not only is it economically damaging, it’s politically damaging internationally, militarily. The risks, just in my opinion, way outweigh the benefits of trying to take over Taiwan.
TN: Let’s say this happened. Let’s say six, nine months, something happens. What happens economically? I know there’s cross holdings with CCP princes and stuff but let’s look at say semiconductors, TSMC. The otherfoundries are disrupted for a period of time.
AM: I know where you’re going with this and this would actually make me flip my position if I was advising China. If they wanted to hit the West and create even a bigger semiconductor shortage, then you absolutely destroy Taiwan. This is where I’m going. You absolutely would do that.
TN: Right. So, does it make SMIC relevant and does it make the Chinese foundries relevant? What is in that gap? TSMC, all the execs are moving to Phoenix. What happens then?
CB: Taiwan and TSMC are in the very awkward space. At this point, they’re probably like THE manufacturing firm. The other places do the design and stuff like that. There’s a lot of firms that are in the mid and low end. But when it comes to your high-end stuff, it’s pretty much TSMC. I think you could make a case that Beijing says, “screw it!” Forget about Taiwan. If we can capture TSMC, we’ve got it all.
TN: We just invade Hsinchu, right?
AM: The Chinese, for all the negative things that I have to say about them, are really good asymmetrically combating the West especially the United States where they’ve weaponized Caterpillar, weaponized multiple American companies within China to hit the United States politically and economically. That would make perfect sense from the Chinese perspective to just cut off the semiconductors specifically because those semiconductors go to Apple, to the big three automobile sector, which is the only thing right now that’s going to be able to get unemployment back down to a decent level for the Biden administration.
TN: If that did happen, would that present an opportunity for Japanese, Korean firms to fill that void to circumvent Chinese control or has that ship sailed years ago and there’s no way they can recover that?
AM: I don’t think that they’d be able to recover especially in the near term. I think the chip shortage would be so, so damaging to the entire global economy that it would be pretty devastating for a while.
CB: And the people I talk to in chips basically say, when it comes to manufacturing of higher end chips, it’s basically TSMC. Not even Intel these days is manufacturing their own chips. So even if TSMC is Chinese tomorrow, it would probably take five years before Korean and Japanese firms at the earliest would be producing high-end chips that could compete with TSMC.
TN: If China threatens to invade Taiwan and the West is like “look, do whatever you want, we just want to make sure we have our chips.“ Is that really a plausible negotiating point?
AM: I don’t think the West could even trust China in that respect. Has the Chinese ever given us assurances and anything like that ever?
TN: Let’s act like this happens. Something happens in June, July whatever. What does the US Navy do? Will they protect Taiwan or will they distance and reevaluate?
AM: The US would probably let Taiwan defend itself for a certain period of time and float in a carrier strike group just to deter China at some point. They’d have to walk defense there. That’s not an easy solution. You’re talking about going up against China within proximity of their borders, which they would have an advantage of.
CB: They’re not going to do something like this just launching a couple volleys of low-grade missiles. This is moving all your chips to the center of the table. And so basically, the question that the US Navy would have to ask is are we going to move all our chips to the middle of the table otherwise, let China have it.
TN: If the US says, “fine, we’re not going gonna move our chip to the side of the table. Let China have it,” then does that destroy US credibility in East Asia because the obligation of the US to defend Japan, Korea and so on, those are gone then, because US has an obligation to defend Taiwan.
AM: The South Korea would be the biggest problem immediately after that.
CB: One of the first comments about by the administration foreign policy was the Japanese defense minister saying China is a real problem, you boys need to get your big boy pants on. That was a month ago or a couple weeks ago. That was pretty much the Japanese saying, “you know this isn’t 2008 boys. We’ve got to be ready.”
The other thing was, is over the past couple years, there’s been a shift in the US Military. Basically, all the US Military in Korea is now way far down the peninsula. And South Korea knows that. The US Military is in a position where if the North Korea decides to stream across the border, they can pretty much pack up their personnel and be gone in a couple of hours. If something happens, Tokyo and Seoul are absolutely going to be paranoid. Doesn’t stand right there and start firing back.