Disinformation, Cybersecurity, and Energy Challenges

By Yuki Tatsumi Editor  ·  Pamela Kennedy Editor  ·  Jason Li Editor
in Program

Nontraditional security challenges—issues that transcend borders and occur outside the threat of military conflict—demand collaboration between a range of state and nonstate actors, from international organizations to NGOs.[1] The concept of nontraditional security is particularly important for Taiwan. The island faces myriad security threats, from natural disasters like typhoons and flooding to frequent cyberattacks. Because it operates under uncommon political constraints, Taiwan must rely on unofficial partnerships, side meetings, and other atypical means of functioning in the global community. As external diplomatic pressure limits Taiwan’s activities in multinational organizations like ICAO and the WHO, it is critical that Taipei continue looking for creative means of safeguarding its security in cooperation with international partners and domestic actors. Taiwan already works closely with the United States to expand its international cooperation on an array of issues through the Global Cooperation and Training Framework, a series of training programs that connects experts from Taiwan and the U.S. with regional partners. There is room to expand and replicate this model.[2] Even the Taiwan Relations Act itself, which lays out parameters for the U.S.’s unofficial relations with Taiwan, is a creative means of engaging with Taiwan in a manner that is adjacent to, but not within, a state-centric framework.

Taiwan is a case study in policy responses to gray-zone strategies as well. The line between traditional and nontraditional security threats to Taiwan is porous, with frequent gray-zone activities that encompass information warfare, economic coercion, and military actions short of conventional war.[3] In this concept, there is significant space for exploring the dimensions of 21st century security threats, and Taiwan has valuable experience countering these evolving threats. Across the wide spectrum of warfare, Taiwan’s current and potential future approaches to these challenges, such as disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and energy blockades, will serve as important lessons for other countries facing similar challenges.

Taiwan therefore offers insights, expertise, and opportunities for cooperation on nontraditional security issues. This collection of essays examines three nontraditional challenges: disinformation, cybersecurity, and energy security. The three authors, who are emerging experts on Taiwan, assess their chosen topic by analyzing the Taiwan government’s current policies and making recommendations to increase security. The three articles show how these multifaceted security challenges require a more contemporary approach to security, and how Taiwan’s unique situation provides opportunities for innovation.

In the first essay, “Confronting the Challenge of Online Disinformation in Taiwan,” Dr. Lauren Dickey, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, details the extensive reach of disinformation in Taiwan. Dr. Dickey shows how Taiwan’s high level of connectivity—with more than 90 percent of individuals using the internet—and open society make it vulnerable to efforts to influence public opinion. The Taiwan government’s policies attempt to balance between preserving freedom of expression and reducing the spread of disinformation, with both government and non-governmental initiatives. Dr. Dickey, emphasizing the importance of guarding against disinformation in the leadup to Taiwan’s 2020 elections, recommends expanding government resources for these initiatives, strengthening partnerships with the private sector and other democracies, and training the public to identify disinformation. For this problem, Dr. Dickey’s assessment epitomizes the all-society characteristic of a nontraditional security approach.

The second essay, “Cybersecurity as a Sine Qua Non of Digital Economy: Turning Taiwan into a Reliable Digital Nation?” by Bo-jiun Jing, a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Global Affairs at King’s College London, looks at the necessity of a strong cybersecurity regime to reaching Taiwan’s digital economy aspirations. Taiwan’s powerhouse status in high-tech industries, from semiconductors to consumer electronics, means cybersecurity is critical, but Mr. Jing identifies challenges Taiwan must overcome: the effectiveness of its cybersecurity policy apparatus, a shortage of skilled professionals in cybersecurity, and the small size of the indigenous cybersecurity industry. Mr. Jing recommends that Taiwan work with international partners like the U.S. and the E.U. to expand collaboration on cybersecurity, as well as deepening contact between the government and the cybersecurity private sector. Mr. Jing’s analysis notes that Taiwan’s vulnerability as a top target of cyberattacks could be turned into an advantage for developing expertise needed in cyber environments across the world.

“Taiwan’s Energy Security: Challenges and Opportunities,” the third essay, by Chen-Sheng Hong, a WSD-Handa Fellow in residence at Pacific Forum, evaluates Taiwan’s precarious energy security situation, focusing on energy availability, infrastructure, and governance. Mr. Hong observes Taiwan’s exposure to international factors that could impact its energy imports and its insufficient energy reserves. Mr. Hong emphasizes the complexity of the energy security problem by assessing the Taiwan government’s policies to reduce disruption, diversify sources, and increase renewable energy use. His recommendations include increased communication between the government, energy developers, and the public to cultivate understanding of Taiwan’s energy policy and goals, and deepening cooperation with international partners on solutions to energy security threats. Though the problem of Taiwan’s energy supply seems to be a domestic issue at first glance, Mr. Hong makes it clear that other countries face this challenge as well, and it is through cooperation on energy technology, infrastructure, and supply that the challenge can be overcome.

It is striking that while these are three large issues in their own right, they are also entangled with Taiwan’s traditional security concerns, falling squarely within the gray zone. Successful disinformation campaigns could sway public opinion to be more favorable towards unification with China—or at least more distrustful of the Taiwan government—exacerbating the risks in cross-Strait relations. Cyberattacks could stunt the growth of Taiwan’s digital economy and jeopardize the private information of the population, the government, and the private sector. Insufficient energy imports could cause blackouts that cripple Taiwan’s ability to support native industries or defend the island. Taiwan might be the best example in Asia of how blurry the lines between traditional and nontraditional security can be, and how these issues require cooperation between the government, the private sector, the public, and international partners. In challenges where nonstate actors are some of the most important stakeholders and problem-solvers, there is room for Taiwan to tackle both its own nontraditional security issues and assist with others that transcend borders and statehood.

[1] Mely Caballero-Anthony, An Introduction to Non-Traditional Security Studies: A Transnational Approach, Los Angeles: SAGE, 2015, p. 14-15.

[2] Kurt Tong, “Taiwan’s International Role and the GCTF,” (speech, Sigur Center for Asian Studies, Washington, D.C., 2 March 2016)

[3] For definitions and attributes of gray zone activities, see Lyle J. Morris, Michael J. Mazarr, Jeffrey W. Hornung, Stephanie Pezard, Anika Binnendijk, and Marta Kepe, “Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone,” RAND Corporation (2019), p. 7-12,

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