In 1984, Martin van den Brink, a young Dutch engineer, joined a newly created venture in a quiet corner of the Netherlands. Little did he know then that about 40 years on the company would be so crucial to the $580 billion semiconductor industry that it would be the epicenter of a U.S.-China chip war.

ASML Holding, where Van den Brink is now the chief technology officer, practically owns the market for a critical piece of equipment needed to produce the brains of everything that makes modern life possible — from cars and smartphones to computers, microwaves and airplanes. With the company’s high-end machines churning out chips that can also go into state-of-the-art weapons and artificial intelligence devices, ASML is effectively being treated as critical infrastructure for U.S. national security and has become a target of industrial espionage for China.

"I never expected to be where we are today,” said Van den Brink.