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Updated Mar 13, 2023, 5:49am EDT
politics

The U.S. would destroy Taiwan’s chip plants if China invades, says former Trump official

Taiwanse chip giant TSMC's logo can be seen in Tainan, Taiwan December 29, 2022
REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
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The News

The United States would destroy Taiwan’s highly sophisticated semiconductor industry rather than allow it to be captured if China ever successfully invaded the island, according to Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor.

“The United States and its allies are never going to let those factories fall into Chinese hands,” Amb. Robert O’Brien told me during a conversation airing today at the Global Security Forum organized by the Soufan Center in Doha, Qatar.

The bulk of the world’s most advanced microchips are produced in Taiwanese facilities owned by TSMC. Gaining control of those plants would make China “like the new OPEC of silicon chips” and allow them to “control the world economy,” O’Brien said.

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“Now let’s face it, that’s never going to happen,” he said.

O’Brien drew a comparison to when Britain chose to destroy France’s storied naval fleet after the country surrendered to Nazi Germany, killing over 1,000 sailors in the process . He recounted how Winston Churchill, a noted Francophile, walked into the House of Commons “with tears streaming down his face because it was the hardest decision he made in the war,” but received unanimous applause.

The idea of demolishing Taiwan’s semiconductor fabs, rather than leaving them in Chinese hands, has been floated before. In 2021, a popular Army War College paper argued that Taiwan should threaten to sabotage the plants itself in response to an invasion in order to deter Beijing from attacking. Taiwanese officials have said there is no need, however, because for various reasons China would not be able to operate the factories after capturing them.

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“Even if China got a hold of the golden hen, it won’t be able to lay golden eggs,” Chen Ming-tong, director-general of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, said last October.

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Steve’s view

Still, I was caught off guard by O’Brien’s candor. It occurred to me at that moment that this national security advisor, cleared at the highest level of state secrets, probably knew whether there is some sort of “end TSMC” action plan should the U.S. and allies not stop China from taking control of Taiwan. O’Brien didn’t explicitly say there was such a plan, but when I asked if Taiwan’s chip production facilities would really be “gone,” he said “I can’t imagine they’d be intact.”

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