Boundary Battles: China’s Attempts to Drive India Away from an Impending ‘Chip War’?

China is eyeing Taiwan for access to the chip manufacturing industry, and the US wants to stop that. Source: Nikkei Asian Review.

The world recently witnessed a highly volatile standoff on the Sino-Indian LAC (Line of Actual Control). Many thought it had the potential to escalate to a local, if not an all-out China-India war.

So far, it looks like it hasn’t. At least, tensions appear to be dying down slowly. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had camouflaged its incursion into India’s Galwan Valley very well but was utterly surprised to find Indian troops reach patrol point 14 within 2.5 hours instead of the conventional 2 to 3 days. They could do so thanks to good infrastructure all the way up to the border – bridges, tunnels, roadside ammunition, and fuel dumps, including an all-weather road right up to Daulat Beg Oldi and patrol point 14.

The PLA was in for another surprise – the current Indian government has given its troops a ‘free hand’, resulting in a dramatic change in their attitude. India put its foot down and forced the PLA to retreat. India continues to hold all its strategic forward posts overlooking the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC) and the Karakoram Highway.

While the incident led to heightened anti-China sentiment in India, resulting in a “Boycott China” movement, the world saw another criminal act of China and rallied behind India. This further downgraded China’s already tarnished global image. China lost double the number of troops India did and is now requesting a face-saving dialogue with India.

China’s intention behind its misadventure on the LAC was to intimidate India away from US and the Quad( Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between India, Japan, Australia, and US ), an emerging, formidable anti-China coalition. Did China achieve its goals?

The answer is a big, bold NO. China’s move has backfired; it has inadvertently pushed India ever closer to US, Japan, Australia. Wary of Chinese mala fide intentions, India will now be a willing partner in the Quad. A quick and strong Indian response to Chinese border incursions and land-grabbing has set the new normal (since the Doklam crisis). It may discourage China from pursuing ‘salami slicing’ tactics in future.

There is another, lesser noticed reason behind China’s aggression. China has sensed an inevitable conflict with Taiwan and a ‘Chip War’ with the US, and it wants India to stay neutral in such a conflict.

What would be oil wars and the space race in the 20th century is the rare earth metals or ‘chip’ war of the 21st century. Rare earth metals and silicon semiconductors are inevitable in the world we live in – they are essential for computers, cell phones, cameras, telecommunications, all modern military equipment, rechargeable batteries, satellites, household appliances, magnets, renewable energy technology and Artificial  Intelligence. The list is unending.

What is worrying is that China controls their global supply chain. China controls ‘rare earth metals’ and handsome reserves of silicon, the latter located in Inner Mongolia. It has extensive mining and production facilities, and accounts for 95% of global output of rare earth metals and two-thirds of global silicon production.

Rare earth metals are actually not that rare, but their purification is a cumbersome process and has serious environmental implications. Apart from China, silicon is found in Brazil, US, Russia, Australia, India, and sea beds of Japan and South Africa, but many of these countries have refrained from aggressive mining and processing to avoid environmental degradation, water contamination and stunted vegetation.

Around 2008, China started deliberately curtailing exports as a part of its arm-twisting strategy, but ended up alerting the US and other developed countries about a possible future Chinese design to dominate rare earths industry and bring the world to a grounding halt.

Taiwan is the manufacturing hub of silicon semiconductors or micro-chips; Taiwanese Semiconductors Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) has a share of 48% of the global market of micro-chips. US sanctions arising out of its trade wars with China have hit Taiwanese chip producers directly, and Taiwan’s balancing act between the US and China has led to the appearance of the ‘Chip War’ on the horizon.

Both the US and China would take at least 5 precious years and billions of dollars to bring their chip production to Taiwanese levels and standards. These five years would take China a decade behind in the race for the position of superpower, while the US would lose its position as the lone superpower of today’s world.

The battle lines are drawn. China is eyeing Taiwan for access to the chip manufacturing industry, and the US wants to stop that. The stakes are too high. China has no allies (Pakistan and North Korea are a dead weight, not assets) and has disgruntled too many of its smaller neighbours. Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS) are sitting ducks for American bombs such as ‘Daisy Cutter’ and are perfect as purely military targets in international waters.

Already, three US Aircraft Carriers (and god knows how many nuclear submarines) are prowling the treacherous waters of the Indo-Pacific region and China has also ramped up its newfound military might. China tried to intimidate India and keep it out of these growing geopolitical complexities, however, it failed to assess Indian response in Ladakh, was taken aback, and learnt(?) its lesson the hard way.

The celebrated Sun Tzu and even Chairman Mao cautioned the Chinese to not open too many fronts in a war. However, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the PLA have become hard on hearing and slow in learning. Their attempt to dissuade smaller neighbours/adversaries from joining hands with the US against them, by making an example of India, has not only failed miserably in the Galwan Ghati, but also backfired, in a big way.

Dr Anant Bhagwat

Dr Anant Bhagwat is a Pune-based radiologist who also runs an NGO named वैश्विक सामरिक नीति प्रतिष्ठान पुणे/ Global Strategic Policy Foundation Pune (GSPFP).

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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