Taiwan Is Becoming an Intelligence-Sharing Power

February 19, 2023 Topic: Taiwan Region: Asia Tags: TaiwanPresident Tsai Ing-wenIntelligenceChina

Taiwan Is Becoming an Intelligence-Sharing Power

For like-minded nations that share Taiwan’s concerns about China, the potential benefits of Taiwan’s ongoing intelligence reforms cannot be understated.

Taiwan’s Understated Value as an ‘Intelligence Sharing-Lite’ Partner

The growing purview of both the domains of intelligence and partners that Taiwan is reaching out to under the reforms of Chen and Tsai Ming-yen’s tenures speaks to the effectiveness of the new diplomacy-led approach. It also draws lessons from Taiwan’s frustrated attempts to strengthen intelligence sharing with its core partners, Japan and the United States, which continue to be mired by institutional resistance, legal/regulatory incompatibilities, and an unfortunate trust deficit due to historic issues of leaks, political conflicts, and concerted Chinese espionage campaigns targeting the NSB. The problems associated with committing to comprehensive agreements have been skirted around by an evolving “integrated-lite” approach that exploits diplomatic outreach and informal engagements, leverages executive discretion, acknowledges and explores the security value of intelligence in non-traditional domains, prefers ad hoc arrangements for micro-sharing intelligence on areas of mutual concern, and that retains state autonomy/discretion by keeping participation voluntary and on a case by case basis.

For like-minded nations that share Taiwan’s concerns about threats to regional or national security stemming from China, the potential benefits of Taiwan’s ongoing intelligence reforms cannot be understated. 

The potential benefits of intelligence sharing with Taiwan extend beyond assessing or deterring threats to peace across the Taiwan Strait. One particular area is cybersecurity. Taiwan has long been a testing and training ground for China’s offensive cyber efforts—many coming from the Fujian-based Strategic Support Force Unit 61716. As a result, Taiwan is not only a repository of enormous amounts of intelligence on Chinese cyber activities but has become a center of innovation on how these can be countered. In 2015, the NSB established a cutting-edge cyber security office. Since then, efforts have been made to strengthen coordination between this office and the Ministry of Digital Affairs’ Administration for Cyber Security, the National Security Council’s National Information Security Office, and the newly formed National Communications and Cyber Centre—Taiwan’s “iron triangle of cyber security.” These developments, directions to form new agencies by the Executive Yuan’s National Information and Communication Security Taskforce, the establishment of the Division of Cyber Security and Decision-Making Simulation in the INDSF, and the development of the Information, Communications and Electronic Force Command as a fourth branch of the military, reflect President Tsai’s commitment that “cybersecurity is national security.” Not only do Taiwan’s reforms provide lessons for other nations, but they could also position Taiwan to become a global leader on Chinese cyber threats and information warfare. On this front, it is worth noting that a 2022 Legislative Yuan report on Taiwan’s state cybersecurity development recommended strengthening international outreach and cooperation, as well as advancing “technological diplomacy” and international cooperation on talent development.

There are also wider benefits to be had. Taiwan has been the target of an extensive range of non-traditional threats to its security and sovereignty that manifest the full spectrum of pre-kinetic measures outlined in Beijing’s “Three Warfares” doctrine. Knowledge of these tactics brings into play the China expertise of Tsai Ming-yen, the China-focus of Taiwan’s intelligence community, and the island’s innate advantages in terms of its geographic, linguistic, and cultural proximity with the People’s Republic of China. While criticized for their scope and severity, Taiwan’s recently devised five national security laws, alongside specific legislation such as the Anti-Infiltration Act, reflect Taiwan’s comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted measures directed at the island by China, ranging from political interference, acquiring shares in media and other strategic assets, co-opting or infiltrating civic, industry and criminal groups, leveraging systemic/market power, up to the use of civilian intelligence gatherers and commercial surveillance drones. Given ongoing concerns in many countries about some of these issues, there is considerable value in tapping into Taiwan’s intelligence resources to understand, identify and forecast such non-conventional threats to national security.

Dr. Corey Lee Bell is a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney’s Australia-China Relations Institute. 

Image: glen photo/Shutterstock.com.