Taipei at Sunset Credit: YI-LIN TSAI

What happens when China decides to dominate the world’s semiconductor chip production by taking over democratic Taiwan? A look at the not-so-distant Christmas-future…

Christmas Eve, 2020President Trump is still loudly contesting the November election results in courtrooms and the media. The Electoral College chose Biden-Harris after several red-state electors defected, justified by an overwhelming national popular vote for the Democratic ticket.

The newly elected Democratic Senate is days from taking over, and Mitch McConnell is rushing through last-minute judicial appointments. McConnell is also busy finalizing legislation giving the Executive sweeping policing powers in the face of daily national demonstrations protesting the election outcome. Growing street confrontations are cited as the reason the outgoing president deployed the National Guard to major cities nationwide.

America is in turmoil and increasingly violent following the deaths of several protestors at the University of California/Berkeley.

The People’s Republic of China is monitoring both Fox and CNN, watching the turmoil and feeding the frenzy via its disinformation. Beijing continues cyber operations, testing, and penetrating corporate and defense networks during this confusing moment. COVID’s second wave – a tsunami thanks to the flu season’s severity – adds new burdens to skeleton staffs at the NSA, CIA, and other national security agencies. 

Beijing’s Ambassador to Washington sends cables home that suggest this is an opportune moment to make dramatic global moves. His memo references Jimmy Carter and how the Soviet Union used Christmas 1979 as the perfect moment to invade and occupy Afghanistan. The ambassador tells the Communist Party leadership that it’s time to initiate Operation “Iceberg’s Tip.”

“Tip” stands for the “Taiwan invasion plan.” The reference to “Iceberg” is to help throw off intercepted signals’ intelligence. Expeditionary People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) forces feint towards Antarctica. But “Iceberg” is not aimed at asserting Antarctic claims. Instead, “Iceberg” is how Beijing sees democratic Taiwan – a dangerous and independent floating hazard that has broken off from the mainland and threatens the PRC’s ship of state.

An impatient Chairman Xi Jinping and a distracted America have set the stage for Beijing. The PRC implements its titanic Taiwan invasion plan.

The world immediately denounces the move, but many nations remorsefully admit that they have long abandoned the Republic of China – aka Taiwan – diplomatically. Multiple nations shuttered their Taipei embassies for the PRC’s economic favor and, in the process, recognized Beijing’s historical claims and long-term unification ambitions. 

Global dependence on trade and nations’ financial interdependence with the PRC temper international responses and dampen outrage in the United Nations. Even nations that once loudly objected to Russia’s Crimean incursion rationalize their milder stance towards the PRC. 

 Beijing plays up its geographic and cultural ties to Taiwan. The PRC claims that Taipei’s autonomy is a clear and present threat to the mainland. That argument gained popular traction after America supplied Taiwan with new weapons systems. Further, high-level official U.S. visits catalyzed aggressive PLAN military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. From Xi Jinping’s nationalist perspective, ongoing U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea sparked his Taiwan invasion.

 On this night before Christmas, America is domestically paralyzed, uncertain, and unable to act. America’s domestic turmoil prevents her from taking decisive action, especially since every Taiwan Strait war game shows devastating losses. American costs would be intolerably high with sunk ships, picked-off warplanes, and dead soldiers. Sixty years after John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon vowed to defend two tiny Taiwanese islands against mainland aggression, neither American political party is eager to risk war.  After a costly, near twenty-year Middle Eastern war, Americans are tired of foreign adventures. Washington allows Taiwan to be absorbed. 

The PRC accepts imposed global sanctions, knowing it can easily absorb international condemnation as it did after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Beijing’s leadership simply sees the world’s punitive reaction as the cost of doing business.

 Interestingly, for all the talk about culture, history, unification, and fraternal unity, the invasion was really spurred on by one strategic goal: the immediate and total appropriation of most of the world’s capacity to produce semiconductor computer chips. Geopolitics and processing power are directly related, and America had recently cut off chips to the People’s Republic, undermining Huawei and starving Beijing’s AI and quantum computing ambitions. 

Taking over Taiwan gives the PRC over half the world’s chip manufacturing. It offers Beijing dominance over the world’s digital lifeblood – the chips that power everything from iPhones to supercomputers. Game over.

 Or not. 

Like previous “Yet to Come” Christmas tales, the story can change if America heeds the warnings.

A decisive, overwhelmingly clear, and uncontestable 2020 presidential election outcome will speak volumes to the world. American elections appear chaotic. They need to be seen instead as just really messy, self-correcting, legitimate democratic processes at work. Show the world elections matter and elections work. 

A peaceful transfer of power will allow America to regain a singular voice that declares: We are united at home. Partisanship stops at the water’s edge. Back off, Beijing.

Markos Kounalakis

Markos Kounalakis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a former NBC Radio Moscow correspondent and the author of Freedom Isn’t Free: The Price of World Order (Anthem Press, 2022).