“The question is: Can China begin to produce the machine tools that it needs to enable domestic fabrication?” said the economic historian Chris Miller, author of Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology. “And I think the answer to that is: not anytime soon. The specific machines in question are among the most precise and complicated that humans have ever made. And the challenge with this machinery is not simply getting it to work once, but to work with almost perfect accuracy running almost all the time.”
Nevertheless, there are several ways that America’s strategy could falter. The most immediate threat concerns the cooperation of U.S. allies. China may be years away from being able to build advanced semiconductors and SME without America’s help. But the Netherlands and Japan are not. Currently, high-end SME like that produced by the Dutch firm ASML requires U.S. inputs. But if leading firms were sufficiently motivated, they could find alternative components, according to Paul Scharre, vice president of the Center for a New American Security.
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