By ERNIE GOTTA
Dozens of warplanes flying from China have recently simulated bombing runs over Taiwan. The bombing simulation also targeted U.S. aircraft carriers that the Biden administration moved into the South China Sea. While the waters of the South China Sea are sharply contested by countries like the Philippines, it’s clear that China considers its maritime security and prowess in the region under threat from the U.S. China passed a law allowing its coast guard for the first time to explicitly fire on foreign vessels. China’s recent flexing is reminiscent of drills it ran in September 2020, when nuclear-capable H-6 bombers simulated attacks on a U.S. airbase in Guam.
Today, China has reason to be concerned about the economic development of Taiwan and its relationship to other world imperialist powers. Recently, these concerns have been compounded by the incoming Biden administration’s statement that its gives “rock solid” support to Taiwan’s independent political and economic aspirations.
While China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” has been consolidating economic imperialist interests through military and commercial means in places like Djibouti, there are increasing tensions in China’s direct sphere of influence. This includes bordering countries like India as well as internal threats from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Challenges coming from independence movements in Hong Kong as well as Taiwan’s historical demand for independence might raise question marks about China’s ability to hold its own against other world imperialist powers. Taiwan is fast becoming the focal point of inter-imperialist conflict due to the rising importance of its tech industry.
Taiwan’s economic success and development of domestic industry has meant continued pressure on China to accept the breakaway province’s complete independence. Taiwan’s presence has occupied a substantial space in China’s history as the base of counterrevolution following the 1949 revolution on the mainland. Workers in Taiwan existed for decades under the world’s longest running martial law, which was justified in order to smash workers’ rebellions. The harsh restrictions were lifted in 1987 after the workers’ movement had been thoroughly crushed. The liberalization and capitalist democracy that emerged poised Taiwan to begin playing an increasingly bigger role in the world markets.
For the first time since 1991, Taiwan’s GDP has outpaced China’s, growing by 3% and topping out at nearly 5% in the fourth quarter. Relatively unscathed from the COVID-19 crisis, Taiwan is emerging as a real player in the tech industry. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is the world’s largest producer and supplies most of the high-tech companies like Apple. In recent months, a chip shortage exacerbated by former President Trump’s trade war with China has sent automakers everywhere scrambling looking for suppliers. The surge in demand has overwhelmed TSMC. Taiwan has now become a sort of bottleneck for chip supply, in which China and the U.S. are coming into conflict.
This bottleneck promises to be a big problem for China. China is one of the world’s largest importers of semiconductors, spending more on tech imports than petroleum. While China only produces 30% of its semiconductors domestically, it imports the majority, $300 billion worth, from Taiwan. While Taiwan is far from being the only semiconductor supplier in the chain, it has found a niche roll regarding the small size and power of their chips.
For China, the stakes are high in terms of its ability to import semiconductors alongside developing technology at home. Domestically, China has spent trillions of dollars in chip technology investment and wooed top TSMC execs to Chinese companies. At the same time, TSMC claims China is conducting a series of cyber attacks to steal information. If China fails to assert its dominance, major tech companies like Huawei are going to face future difficulties in easily accessing semiconductors.
U.S. legislators are also trying to hasten China’s troubles by aggressively attempting to consolidate relationships with tech companies through the “Chips for America Act.” Tensions are not likely to ease any time soon as TSMC and South Korea’s Samsung are both planning to build chip-manufacturing plants in the U.S. Southwest. There is already, of course, a long history of the U.S. trying to drive a wedge between Taiwan and China. More recently, though, in 2019, the U.S. began U.S.-Taiwan joint cyberwar exercises to address cyber security concerns.
The potential for inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and China—combined with the triple crisis of the economy, COVID, and climate change—promises to drag workers across the globe into a darker stage of capitalist hardship. At the same time, out of this inter-imperialist rivalry, workers need to find openings for new opportunities to connect and organize in opposition to the capitalist drive for profit. The lack of a revolutionary leadership to guide the working class in this period has resulted in the inability to turn the many upsurges into a struggle for workers’ power.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics