A new Cold War — does that sound ridiculous? Does it sound alarmist?
It would have been a month or more back, but today it is a plausible statement.
A post by Edward Luce in the Financial Times refers to a Bloomberg expose reporting on how China’s People’s Liberation Army has installed secret micro-chips on motherboards that were used to operate big corporate data servers, giving them unprecedented access to American military and technology secrets on an epic scale.
The microchips are said to be smaller than a grain of rice and thinner than the tip of a sharpened pencil, yet could provide backdoor access into the most secret of American technology. We quote Luce when we say, according to Bloomberg, China may have infiltrated U.S. military hardware, including drones, fighter jets, and so on.
It must be said, major retail hardware providers like Apple vehemently denied the existence of such malicious chips, but Bloomberg’s investigation has been going on for three years and begs the old saying — no smoke without fire.
The investigation apparently is still ongoing. But the consequences, coming on top of an escalating trade war and recent military skirmishes in the South China Sea, herald a new superpower rivalry.
There may be some who scoff at the suggestion that China could rival the U.S. as a superpower, but that is to misunderstand the trajectory of history.
China is on the rise, faster in terms of technology than it is even economically.
Take these secret microchips. As Luce points out, the creation and clandestine inclusion of such sophisticated technology is so hard to pull off that it was likened by a professional hacker to getting a unicorn to jump over a rainbow. It would take years, the article suggests and the deepest knowledge of how to manipulate the most cutting-edge technology across the global supply chain, for China to do this — yet, it did.
Roughly 75% of U.S. smartphones and 90% of semiconductors are made in China; it is safe to bet that domination is set to decline, but it can’t happen overnight.
In a heated and politically charged scenario, it is not unrealistic to think government will mandate or reward firms that reshore technologically sensitive supply chains, with profound implications for what has become a hugely interdependent world.