Home » Geopolitics in the gray area: How China is putting pressure on Taiwan as a chip location

Geopolitics in the gray area: How China is putting pressure on Taiwan as a chip location

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Geopolitics in the gray area: How China is putting pressure on Taiwan as a chip location

The launch of a Chinese space rocket complete with a weather satellite became a geopolitical event in mid-April. Shortly after a maneuver in which the Chinese military practiced attacks on the offshore island of Taiwan, Beijing announced a three-day no-fly zone in northern Taiwan. Supposedly to protect planes in the area from falling rocket parts. Closing the airspace for three days would have had a massive impact on the busy air traffic from Taiwan to South Korea and Japan.

This move sparked global fears that China, following military maneuvers, is testing a new measure to isolate key chipmaker Taiwan, which Beijing leaders regard as a breakaway province. By 2027, the army should be able to militarily bring Taiwan back into the Middle Kingdom, is the order of state and party leader Xi Jinping.

A possible attack is a worldwide horror scenario. Because an interruption in chip deliveries would affect the production of many products worldwide, such as for smartphones, computers and cars. Taiwan, Japan and South Korea protested against the surprising measure accordingly quickly and violently. China reacted promptly and shortened the lockdown to 27 minutes. Shortly after the start, parts of the rocket fell in the warning zone, said Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense. But by then the political damage had already been done.

With the sudden and excessive measure of warning against flights through the airspace for three days, Beijing has made one thing clear to the world: The People’s Republic of China can not only threaten the island, which is officially called the Republic of China, with a risky invasion or a naval blockade become. There are also so-called gray area activities that apply pressure without direct use of force and are intended to force Taiwan to surrender.

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For Eric Heginbotham, a security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this includes sanctions, major military maneuvers, the recently threatened inspections of Taiwanese ships, an expansion of the Chinese air surveillance zone over the island and no-fly zones.

Heginbotham warns that these measures are very attractive for Beijing. “Grey zone activities are very easy and a promising answer to increase the pressure from the Chinese point of view.” One reason is that they are less risky than a direct attack. According to war simulations that Heginbotham, along with other experts, ran for the US think tank CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies), China would likely lose the battle for Taiwan, albeit at horrendous cost to Taiwan, the US, and Japan.

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On the other hand, when it comes to gray area activities, the situation is reversed: Taiwan and its partners do not have a good solution for them, says Heginbotham. “We then have to decide when to take which countermeasures.” And it is difficult to find a consensus on when to hit back and how hard. At the same time, it is difficult to undo measures in the gray area. Because they create facts.

A classic case for the expert is the construction of islands in the South China Sea by China, with which Beijing wants to assert its claim to the strategically important sea area, which the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has rejected.

Almost all shipping from East Asia to Europe passes through this area. Originally, China had asserted that it was not about military activities. But now many islands are outposts of the People’s Liberation Army. “There’s nothing we can do about that other than sink them,” says Heginbotham. “And we don’t.”

Heginbotham and his team now want to find out in a new “War Game” whether this gray area strategy could be more worthwhile for China. The simulation should then run through the economic consequences of such activities in the gray area.

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