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ASPI: Speaking for the US on Taiwan

Written by: (Contributed) on 14 May 2021


Early this year an intelligence assessment about Taiwan was declassified, immediately after the inauguration of the Biden presidential administration. Details contained in the assessment were highly incriminating; providing evidence that the timing of the release of the report was not a coincidence.

The intelligence assessment soon came to dominate a great deal of political and military discourse in Australian mainstream media.

Subsequent revelations about Australian Government foreign policy provision have also thrown light upon shortcomings in the corridors of power in Canberra with their slavish adherence to US-led diplomacy, while not recognising the legacy of problems created by the Trump administration.

Other relevant information, for example, was also conveniently side-lined in an attempt to avoid serious analysis of US corporate interests and Taiwan.

In early February the Australian Defence Department released an intelligence assessment warning that China may 'attempt to take over Taiwan using all means short of war as early as 2024'. (1) The assessment had apparently been given to the Morrison Coalition government the previous May although it remained classified as a standard procedure. It suggested a likely trigger for China to focus attention upon Taiwan was the possible election of a pro-independence presidential administration in forthcoming elections scheduled for 2024. The assessment stated that while 'a conventional military invasion of Taiwan is unlikely …  Beijing is … likely to pursue a protracted and intensive campaign using all means short of war to force the Taiwanese leadership to start negotiating'. (2)

The intelligence assessment stated, in conclusion, 'it would be a strategic nightmare for Australia, South Korea and the US'. (3)

The release of the report took place shortly after the inauguration of the Biden presidential administration and the controversial events on Capitol Hill. It is also important to note Taiwan was a foreign policy preoccupation with the Trump administration: arms sales were dramatically increased to Taipei during the 2017-20 period and President Tsai Ing-wen was made a welcome guest by the Trump administration in the US. The near five hundred US personnel hosted by the Taiwanese government in the American Institute in Taipei who are on temporary leave from the US State Department, likewise, appear to be a front-line part of US-led diplomatic and intelligence hostilities toward China. (4)

Within days of the release of the intelligence assessment the issue of Taiwan became a high priority in mainstream Australia media outlets and has continued to remain a dominant feature of foreign policy coverage to date. The pro-Taiwan lobby would appear to have considerable support in Australia, on behalf of their US-backers.

Those who had received favourable treatment under the Trump administration would appear fearful of losing patronage with the incoming Biden administration.

All, however, is not what it would appear at first glance; other related information was not included in standard media coverage due to political chicanery in Canberra.

ASPI: Australians Serving Predatory Imperialism

A recent parliamentary submission to the Senate inquiry into foreign policy saw a senior Australian academic condemn right-wing think-tanks such as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) for monopolising advisory positions in Canberra and elsewhere. (5) It was alleged 'the non-university foreign policy sector did not face the same academic rigour as the Go8 and the Morrison government should prevent low-quality research from non-university analysts influencing global policy too much'. (6)

The ASPI, as an influential lobby organisation, has an interesting history; it is not difficult to establish their political credentials and lineage. The ASPI was created by John Howard while he was Prime Minister in 2001, and formed part of a larger package of right-wing policies which were also included undermining the tertiary education system. Its first director was Hugh White a former intelligence official with the Defence Department and Office of National Assessments, revealing a classic tool of class and state power. It is part funded by the Australian Government together with the US State Department. A total of 17 per cent of its annual budget is also derived from foreign governments, including Taiwan, together with the major military contracting corporations and organisations. (7)

Those who pay the piper, obviously call the tune; they expect an endless stream of intelligence assessments to serve US-led foreign policy and defence and security considerations in the present Cold War with China.

Taiwan and the struggle for micro-chip domination

A recent ASPI report about Taiwan is, therefore, an interesting read in the given context.

The report, by Michael Shoebridge, suggested the US was determined to defend Taiwan for four listed reasons: the geography of the island as a strategic part of US foreign policy, the principle of bourgeois democracy whereby it could be used to promote a certain type of political structure, its unique role in semi-conductor manufacturing, and the maintenance of traditional hegemonic positions. (8) It is perhaps the third factor which is the most important for US foreign policy; the other three factors merely rest upon primary economic considerations.

Taiwan is one of the world's biggest producers of micro-chips; two chip foundries, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and United Microelectronic Corp (UMC), produce more than forty per cent of the global microprocessor market. (9) A third plant is also being constructed to manufacture 3 nanometre (nm) chips which have the potential to be at least 70 per cent faster than existing chips, pushing Taiwan to potentially grab an even larger section of lucrative global markets.

A great deal of the present conflict between the US and China revolves around ready access to higher levels of technology; the US fears China gaining better access to micro-chips.

The existing shortage of micro-chips has largely been created by the Trump administration banning Huawei from many western telecommunications systems. Huawei, realising they were being forced from western markets, went on a spending spree to accumulate as many as five billion micro-chips for their own manufacturing enterprises. (10) The legacy of short-term thinking by the Trump administration now hangs like a mill-stone upon successive generations.

In conclusion, the US now also face a major problem with foreign policy toward Taiwan. Corporate matters have merged with defence and security considerations; it has already been noted the advanced micro-chip nodes require tens of billions of dollars of investment and it was regarded as more cost-efficient to out-source key parts of the process to Taiwan.
(11) It is not difficult to find evidence: in fact, an official media release noted US analysts have already urged Intel to not bother arranging production of 7 nm micro-chips in their western plans and to out-source production to Taiwan. (12)

An estimated US$50 billion of the Biden administration's massive US$2.3 trillion infra-structure plan, furthermore, is specifically planned for US semi-conductor manufacturing, mostly in Taiwan. (13) An announcement TSMC have also planned to invest US$100 billion in micro-chip manufacturing over the next three years is further evidence of the enhanced position of Taiwan for US regional foreign policy.

The Australian Defence Department intelligence assessment about Taiwan, released earlier this year, was a furphy; the real cause of rising diplomatic tensions over Taiwan is primarily concerned with economic considerations and micro-chip production. Forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for 2024, while a consideration, are less important for establishing the true colours of the bigger corporate picture. The ASPI and their cronies, however, obscured information about economic matters in an attempt to provide another picture.

The fact that Australia has now been drawn into US-led Taiwan planning and the defence of US corporate interests has raised serious questions about what we are likely to expect in coming years with real-war scenarios in the name of 'US interests':

                                         We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Takeover of Taiwan by China 'likely', Australian, 9 February 2021.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Beijing keeps a wary eye on new US Taipei outpost, Australian, 18 June 2018.  
5.     Uni take a swipe at think tanks, Australian, 5 May 2021.
6.     Ibid.
7.     See Wikipedia: Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2018-19 annual report; and,
        ASPI website, Funding, 2019-20.
8.     Thinking the unthinkable, The Weekend Australian, 8-9 May 2021.
9.     Why we should worry about the microchip crisis, Australian, 3 May 2021.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Taiwan key to chip war, Australian, 31 March 2021.
12.   Ibid.
13.   Chip shortage powers Big Tech profit as economies recover from Covid, Australian, 9 April 2021.


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