In a statement marking 50 years since the UN General Assembly voted to seat Beijing and boot out Taipei, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday October 26, he regretted that Taiwan had been increasingly excluded on the world stage.
China has stated that Taiwan has no right to join the United Nations, after the United States made a call for the democratic island to have greater involvement in the world body. “As the international community faces an unprecedented number of complex and global issues, it is critical for all stakeholders to help address these problems. This includes the 24 million people who live in Taiwan,” Blinken said.
“Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the UN system is not a political issue, but a pragmatic one,” he said. “That is why we encourage all UN member states to join us in supporting Taiwan’s robust, meaningful participation throughout the UN system and in the international community.”
“Taiwan has become a democratic success story,” Blinken said. “We are among the many UN member states who view Taiwan as a valued partner and trusted friend.” Blinken pointed to Taiwan’s exclusion from meetings associated with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Health Organization.
He noted that Taiwan was hailed for its “world-class” response to Covid-19 — which largely spared the island after early intervention — and that tens of millions of passengers go through Taiwanese airports each year.
The US has stated its commitment to defending its allies just days after China sent 77 warplanes into Taiwanese airspace. This week, China sent a “record number” of military jets into Taiwan’s air defence zone for four days in a row, in a public show of force and the US feel such actions undermine peace across the Taiwan Strait.
China sent 38 warplanes into the skies around Taiwan on Friday, the highest number of Chinese military aircraft to breach the island’s Air Defence Identification Zone in a single day since Taipei began publicly reporting such activities last year, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said Friday night.
Taiwan’s head of cybersecurity said that is using dramatic measures to guard against technological vulnerabilities — including employing roughly two dozen computer experts to deliberately attack the government’s systems and help it defend against what Taiwanese authorities estimate are some 20 million to 40 million cyberattacks every month.
As China steps up military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island is preparing for the next big frontier of warfare: crippling cyberattacks.
Taiwan says it has been able to defend against the overwhelming majority of attacks. Successful breaches number in the hundreds, while only a handful are what the government classifies as “serious.”
But the enormous number — and where Taiwan thinks they’re coming from — has compelled the government to take the issue seriously, according to Chien Hung-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security.
“Based on the attackers’ actions and methodology, we have a rather high degree of confidence that many attacks originated from our neighbor,” he said referring to mainland China.
“The operation of our government highly relies on the internet,” Chien said. “Our critical infrastructure, such as gas, water and electricity are highly digitized, so we can easily fall victim if our network security is not robust enough.”
Cyberattacks are a growing global threat. And while China is far from the only country to be accused of orchestrating such attacks, Beijing this week is facing intense scrutiny from the West on the issue.
On Monday, the United States, the European Union and other allies accused China’s Ministry of State Security of using “criminal contract hackers” to carry out malicious activities around the world, including a campaign against Microsoft’s Exchange email service in March.
The coordinated announcement has illustrated the Biden administration’s priorities in defending cybersecurity, after serious vulnerabilities had been reported in major American sectors, such as energy and food production.
Chien said Taiwan suspects that state-backed hackers were behind at least one major malware attack on the island last year. In May 2020, CPC Corporation — a government-owned refiner in Taiwan — was hacked and left unable to process electronic payments from customers. The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau accused a hacker group linked to China of carrying out the attack.
China has repeatedly denied launching cyberattacks against Taiwan and others. In his statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the island’s accusations “groundless and purely malicious.” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also criticized Taiwanese authorities for using cyberattacks to smear the mainland as a “habitual trick,” and to shift the public’s focus away from the island’s recent Covid-19 outbreak.
And after China was accused by the West earlier this week of launching a massive, global hacking campaign, the country blasted the claims as “groundless.”
“We strongly urge the United States and its allies to stop pouring dirty water on China on cybersecurity issues,” Zhao Lijian, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said on Tuesday. “China firmly opposes and cracks down on cyberattacks of any kind, let alone encourages, supports or indulges them.”
Tensions with China
Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of the Chinese Civil War more than 70 years ago. While the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, Beijing considers the island to be an “inseparable part” of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to use force if necessary to prevent the island from formally declaring independence.
In recent years, China has stepped up its military pressure on Taiwan. In June, the country sent over two dozen warplanes near the island, prompting Taiwan to alert its air defenses. That was the largest number of warplanes sent to that zone since Taiwan began keeping records of such incursions last year. Beijing has also released military propaganda warning Taipei to “prepare for war” as it establishes stronger ties with the United States. (Analysts say the flights likely serve several purposes for China, including as a demonstration of the strength of the country’s military and as a way to gain intelligence it needs for any potential conflict involving Taiwan.)
Experts have voiced concerns not just about the prospect of military warfare, but cyber warfare, too.
Earlier this month, US-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future alleged that a Chinese state-sponsored group has been targeting the Industrial Technology Research Institute, a Taiwanese hi-tech research institution.
Recorded Future said it found that Chinese groups have been targeting organizations across Taiwan’s semiconductor industry to obtain source codes, software development kits and chip designs. It based its claims on evidence it compiled using a method called network traffic analysis, which examines such traffic to detect security threats.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to questions about that analysis, but accused Taiwanese authorities of inciting anti-China hatred and increasing cross-strait conflicts.
Preparing for risks
A number of countries are now focusing on the mounting threat of cyberattacks, which in recent months crippled one of the largest fuel pipelines in the United States and shut down major operations for meat supplier JBS USA.
In April, the US Department of Justice declared 2020 the “worst year ever” for extortion-related cyberattacks. And the first half of 2021 saw a 102% increase in ransomware attacks compared to the same time period last year, according to cybersecurity firm Check Point Software.
Allen Own, CEO of Taiwanese cybersecurity company Devcore, said hackers can often be categorized into two groups: those who are working for profit, and those who are stealing information of national importance.
He said many countries — including the United States, China, Russia and North Korea — have assembled formidable “cyber armies” to either obtain intelligence or infiltrate another country’s infrastructure, or defend against attackers that might do the same to them. That kind of power highlights the need for Taiwan to boost its own capabilities.
“In information security, many people say that World War III will happen over the internet,” he said.
Taiwan says, meanwhile, that it has been attuned to these types of risks for years.
In 2016, the Executive Yuan — Taiwan’s highest administrative organ — set up the Department of Cyber Security to mitigate security risks.
President Tsai Ing-wen at the time declared cybersecurity a matter of national security. This May, she announced the creation of a new digital development ministry, which will supervise the information and communication sector with a focus of protecting critical infrastructure, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency.
In an exclusive interview with the source last month, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu accused China of using military intimidation, disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks to undermine the Taiwanese population’s trust in their own government.
“They want to shape Taiwanese people’s cognition that Taiwan is very dangerous, and Taiwan cannot do without China,” he said. “[But] Taiwan has some very good capability in dealing with cyberattacks. And that is because of our long experience dealing with the cyber activities initiated by the Chinese side.”
Chien, the Taiwanese cybersecurity department leader, said the self-governing island has been subject to tens of millions of attacks monthly, a trend the government has recorded for at least the last few years.
But he said Taiwan has been able to defend against most attempts and serious breaches resulting in stolen data or paralyzed services numbered about 10 over the last year.
Chien declined to go into specific details about those attacks, and was willing only to cite successful hacks of Taiwan’s education system, which resulted in student data being stolen.
Even if a cyber intrusion is resolved, such attacks can have long-term consequences because of the kind of information that attackers can gain access to, according to Tsai Sung-ting, CEO of Team T5, a Taiwanese cybersecurity solution provider.
“We frequently observe that after they compromise an organization, the first thing is to steal the emails and documents,” he said. “So even after you clean the infection this time, they may come back next month or a few months later. So I will say the threat is persistent.”
In an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party Thursday, President Xi Jinping claimed that only the party could ensure China’s continued assent and stability, and any attempt to divide it from the country would fail.
Without the Communist Party, there will be no new China,” Xi said.
Speaking in front of a reported crowd of 70,000 at a highly-choreographed ceremony in Tiananmen Square, Xi delivered a strongly nationalist speech in which he vowed that China would no longer be “bullied, oppressed or subjugated” by foreign countries, to thundering applause and cheers.
“Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Xi said.
Xi’s speech capped a morning of celebrations in the capital to mark the party’s centenary, including patriotic songs, speeches from officials and flyovers by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
The Chinese Communist Party was founded in secret in a small brick house in Shanghai’s former French Concession by around a dozen delegates, in July 1921. Its subsequent rise and continued monopoly on power has confounded its critics, with the party proving itself adept at changing at crucial moments to ensure the survival of its one-party rule. Under its founder and former Chairman, Mao Zedong, millions starved to death during protracted periods of famine and political crisis. Today, China is the world’s second-largest economy, with some estimates suggesting it is poised to overtake the United States.
However, Thursday’s celebrations follow a turbulent two years for the unelected party, marked by its perceived mishandling of the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019, growing international outrage over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the rise and subsequent suppression of large scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Numerous challenges also lie ahead, from a slowing economy, an aging population and a shrinking workforce, to an increasingly united democratic West that is determined to counter China’s rise.
Speaking on Thursday, Xi announced the party had accomplished its centenary goal of creating a “moderately prosperous society” in China. “We are now marching in confident strides toward the second centenary goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects,” Xi said.
In a continuation of his hardline foreign policy, Xi said while China would welcome “helpful suggestions” from other governments, it would not accept “sanctimonious preaching.”
On the subject of Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that the Chinese government has long maintained is part of its territory, Xi said its “reunification” with the mainland was part of the “historic mission” of the Communist Party.
And at a time when Hong Kong’s civil liberties are increasingly under threat from new national security legislation passed by Beijing, Xi said Thursday that “social stability” must be maintained in the major financial hub, as well as China’s “sovereignty (and) security.”
“No one should underestimate the great resolve, the strong will, and the extraordinary ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.