Cyber Tensions & Capabilities In Asia

As geopolitical tensions grow, governments across the Indo-Pacific region are racing to develop their cyber capabilities in order to ensure their future security and prosperity. Combined with ongoing Russian and North Korean cyber aggression and new artificial intelligence-powered threats, the cyber security landscape of the Indo-Pacific region appears increasingly ominous.

Comprising approximately 40 economies, the Indo-Pacific is set to represent over 50% of the world’s GDP by 2040, with China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia’s combined GDP more than the whole of the European Union.

The Indo-Pacific region forms a chessboard for complex technological disputes. At stake is not just data security, but the depth of regional ties. Governments and businesses can only connect and cooperate to the extent they trust their counterparts' network security. 

Indo-Pacific Region

This vast and diverse region forms a chessboard for complex technological disputes over the production of semiconductors in Taiwan, US-China geopolitical clashes concerning the latter’s state-linked cyber operations, concerns around mixing of cyber security, press freedon and disinformation along withincreasing cyber threats from both state and non-state actors.

ASEAN and other cross-regional efforts have also sought to address some of these challenges by focusing on cyber capacity building, infrastructure building  and building shared resilience. However, cyberspace has become a reflection of tensions within the region.

Earlier this year, a published leak from a Chinese firm showed that the country had been conducting cyber espionage campaigns against multiple governments in the region. This included telecom service providers in Pakistan, Mongolia and Malaysia, as well as various parts of the Indian government. India, meanwhile, has sought to ramp up its own capabilities through the creation of a National Cyber Agency in 2018.  

At the same time, Pakistan has been developing its capabilities, with Pakistan-linked hackers attacking organisations in India. Elsewhere, Vietnam-linked hackers have attacked domestic human rights organisations in as well as in Laos and the Philippines.   

Five Eyes Intelligence

The Five Eyes intelligence sharing co-operative,  comprising Canada, the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand,  have built wider security partnerships in the region, these include the trilateral AUKUS initiative and the QUAD with the addition of India, These groups focus on developing a range of capabilities and to share and increase inter-operability between national armed forces, including cyber capabilities, AI, quantum and other emerging technologies.

Countries in the region face numerous challenges and have in most cases committed to norms for responsible state behaviour at the UN (with the notable exception of Northh Korea). 

How they will manage to reconcile this commitment with the development of cyber capabilities such as the establishment of cyber commands, the use of offensive cyber capabilities, or being more active in responding to and preventing cyber operations.

For cyber capabilities to be effective instruments of diplomacy, states must also be transparent about their intentions. As with military power, developing cyber capabilities without some degree of transparency creates uncertainties, which breed distrust.

While no state is expected to be completely open about the systems that make up its cyber security capabilities, it remains important that states demonstrate their commitment to the UN global framework of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace by establishing clear doctrines, ensuring rigorous oversight  and fostering transparency through engagements with  international and domestic partners.

These elements not only enhance operational effectiveness but also contribute to the stability and security of the global cyber environment. As countries continue to evolve their cyber strategies, it is fundamental that they work to develop trust through confidence-building.

RUSI     |     UNAV     |     Atlantic Council     |     Nikkei Asia     |     Air University     |     US Dept of Defense

Image: photobank kiev

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