Expert says Taiwan ready for Beijing threat as ‘defence is winning’

China ‘putting pieces in place’ says expert

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A former spy chief has told Express.co.uk that China is “very worried” that its attempts to attack Taiwan could fail due to strong cyber defences that could bat away the threat from Beijing if it tries to launch a so-called “information war” in the build-up to a physical conflict. Fears that China could invade the island nation in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims sovereignty over, continue to soar.

But Nigel Inkster, former British Secret Intelligence Service’s former Director of Operations and Intelligence, says that China is “very worried” about the defence capabilities of Taipei and the West, despite China’s “relentless attempts to launch information attacks” alongside military incursions.

He said: “In terms of what China is doing now in relation to Taiwan, which the Chinese refer to as ‘Grey Zone’ activity, military incursions, areal and naval incursions, all of these are accompanied by a relentless series of cyber attacks. In particular, disinformation attacks.”

However, while Taiwan is able to cope with the majority of these threats, China is reportedly capable of launching vast numbers of attacks in a bid to overwhelm Tawian in the build up to an actual conflict. 

This is similar to what Russia has done with regard to its invasion of Ukraine, launching a “blizzard” of cyber attacks both in the build-up to and during the war it has waged on its neighbouring country. 

And according to reports, China may have even been involved in cyber-attacks on Ukrainian military and nuclear targets shortly before the Russian invasion. 

Mr Inkster said: “I think the Taiwanese have become quite good at spotting and defending against these, but they keep on coming. What China does better than anybody is scale. All these things are there.

“In the event that China were to decide to take action against Taiwan, which doesn’t necessarily mean a full-blown amphibious invasion, yes of course we would expect to see the same blizzard of cyber attacks as a kind of softening up process to take out capabilities. 

“The Taiwanese are looking at this, and they are also looking at three major fibre optic cables that link them to the outside world that can be easily cut and they are looking at how they can acquire alternatives, inevitably this would have to be satellite-based capabilities such as Elon Musk has provided in Ukraine.”

However, Mr Inkster said Beijing may have a tough time breaching Taiwan’s defences, which is a hue concern for the Chinese Communist Party. 

He said: “But I know the Chinese are very worried. They are looking at Ukraine and two things worry them. One is cyber vigilantism – people like anonymous and everybody else piling in.

“And the other is the assistance that Western Governments have provided to Ukraine. Obviously they are anticipating that something like this would happen in the event of a war crisis. 

“It remains the case that defence is winning. It is hard and relentless but for every successful cyber attack, there are many more that are unsuccessful. Doing a cyber attack is not just like firing a weapon.

“You can try and use common exploits against target networks, but if you are really serious about attacking a well-defended network, that requires months, maybe even years of preparation to find the right entry vector…it is something that is the subject of long, advanced preparation, intelligence collection and so on.”

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The warning also comes following concerns that China may have been tempted to interfere with local elections in Taipei. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and senior Government officials urged voters to use these elections to stand up to Beijing in a major show of force against Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The KMT, the main opposition party, has traditionally been understood to have closer ties to Bejing has focused largely on domestic topics, although it strongly denies being pro-China. 

However, Taiwan said it was seeing minimal Chinese interference ahead of the elections, although Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that this may be due to China’s own current domestic issues. 

He said: “I would describe it as that the Chinese interference in our election is not as prevailing as previous elections.”

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