Computer chips are ubiquitous, but they’re only made in a few places.
In a single day, we interact with hundreds of computer chips, most no larger than a penny. These tiny circuits power everything from smartphones and laptops to medical devices and electric vehicles, and they’re largely responsible for our increasingly computerized lives. But in recent months, the world’s dependence on these chips has also put them at the center of mounting tensions between the United States and mainland China over Taiwan.
Taiwan is located just 100 miles from China’s eastern coast, and it produces the vast majority of the advanced chips used in today’s electronics. The island is a democracy with its own government, and is home to more than 20 million people. Officials in Beijing, however, claim Taiwan as part of China and have repeatedly threatened to invade and “reunify” the island with the mainland. The US does not officially recognize Taiwan’s independence, though President Joe Biden has suggested that he would send American troops to defend the island against an invasion. As a result, there’s fear that a blockade around Taiwan could create a humanitarian and trade crisis, ultimately cutting off the world’s access to tons of critical technology.