By Cameron Bassindale
The 21st Century has, on the whole, been terrible at best. The oceans are rising. Global terrorism spawned war all over the Middle East. A global recession. People lost trust in Institutions, Unions, Banks, Politicians. And, on February 24th 2022, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The refugee crisis that followed is the largest in Europe since the Second World War. The full-scale of this crisis is yet to be seen, and the course of the war is far from obvious.
Amid global calamity, there is a new crisis bubbling under the surface which promises to be even worse for global stability than what’s going on in Ukraine. A war between Taiwan and China has the potential to wreak havoc on global economic supply chains, and could spiral into a full-blown ‘hot’ (military) war between the West and China.
So, you might ask, what proof is there that China has any intention of invading the mountainous island to its East? Well for a start, they’ve said they would. In June, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said China will “definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost”. This is in response to the US closing its informal ties with the Republic of China (not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China, what we know as ‘China’). He also said that China will “smash to smithereens” any plot for Taiwan to break away from China.
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While Russia’s relationship withUkraine and China’s relationship with Taiwan are markedly different,there are still a lot of similarities to be found. Not least the larger state being fool-hardy, and totally against Western intervention. In a world where Russia can invade Ukraine, the world should be very wary of what China does next.
One area where the two conflicts would share much is scarcity. The UN Comtrade Database date tells us that between 2014 and 2020 a staggering 24% of Global wheat exports and 14% of corn exports by trade value came from Russia and Ukraine. This has led to a massive food crisis, which we are really only seeing the beginning of. This has hit developing nations particularly hard. Add to that the growing cost of the energy and fuel crisis caused by the war, and it is easy to see how deeply conflicts impact the global economy.
A potential China-Taiwan war would see the global economy impacted in a far more fundamental way even than that of the Russo-Ukraine war. And it boils down to one thing; Semiconductors. While patently un-sexy, semiconductors are fundamental to modern economies and anyone reading this should be very worried indeed of a China-Taiwan conflict wreaking havoc with global supply chains. And Germany has already experienced this danger first hand.
Caused by the pandemic, Semiconductor chip shortages meant Germany’s automotive industry laid people off and suffered large and uncommon losses. “90%” of the most advanced semiconductor chips, as Joe Biden rightly points out, are made in Taiwan. And it isn’t just the car industry that would be affected by global chip scarcity. Utilities, Communications, Computing, Healthcare to name a few are all key industries which rely on the use of Semiconductors. These are all industries which young people in advanced economies are increasingly flocking to.
In fact, in the West there aren’t a whole lot of industries that don’t rely on semiconductors at some part of the supply chain. A war on the shores of Taiwan then, would surely spell danger for the livelihoods of people all over the developed world. Think of it like this; if the Russia-Ukraine war can grind to a halt the export of wheat, one of the easiest crops to produce in the world, then the infinitely complex Semiconductor industry doesn’t stand a chance.
But it isn’t just mass economic hardship that a war in Taiwan could bring to the West, I would argue there is a very real possibility that Western nations would be dragged into a bloody, global war. The US and Japan are key players in the Pacific region, and both have committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. China starting a war against its neighbour could see Western allies dragged into it. In the event of war, President Biden being the Commander-in-Chief probably won’t instill much confidence in the West . At a press conference in Tokyo in May, Biden outright said “Yes.” when asked if The US would intervene militarily if war broke out. Biden cited a Treaty which expired over 40 years ago.
Understandably this caused outrage and made people question America’s ability to protect its friends and the global economy, which will worry leaders in Europe and Asia alike. What is happening in Russia may make the possibility of a war with Western combatants more likely.
The international community has been pretty roundly appalled by Russia’s war; America will not want to sit idly by while another major player goes against the international order and slaughters civilians at will. Add to this whole scenario China’s nuclear ally North Korea nearby and you have a recipe for a disaster which really goes above and beyond what we are seeing in Eastern Europe.
It must be said however that the anger levelled at Russia’s foray into Ukraine might actually help the global security environment, in a strange way. The anger towards Russia and the comprehensive (if ineffective) sanctions against it may be enough to make China think twice about any invasion. After all, China’s “economic decoupling” from the West is a way off from being complete as the Asian behemoth still relies on exporting goods to the West.
I hope for the world, and the young people in China and Taiwan who would suffer the most from war, that there is lasting peace in Taiwan. If there isn’t, we could be staring down the barrel at the beginning of the end for life as we knew it.
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