After North Korea successfully tested the KN-14 intercontinental ballistic missile last month, the threat to the US mainland became much more of a reality. Just last night, President Trump said that the US will meet North Korea’s threats with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” adding fuel to a fire that looks to be quickly escalating.
However, there seems to be little interest in this rising tension within Taiwan, even with possible armed conflict right in Taiwan’s neighborhood. Taiwan is perilously sandwiched between US and China, both of which are under threat from North Korea.
For the US, North Korea’s current capabilities have likely reached a tipping point. If the US does not take some kind of action to stop North Korea’s progress, it is only a matter of time before American cities on the west coast are plausibly threatened.
Even worse for China, North Korea’s current ballistic missile range covers most of China’s territories. It is not in the interest of China’s national security for North Korea to continue to stockpile its nuclear arsenal.
While China and the US have overwhelming incentives to act before North Korea conducts the next nuclear test, it is yet uncertain what their actions will be. Regardless, as a nation sitting right in the center of East Asia, Taiwan will undoubtedly be profoundly impacted.
For which areas should Taiwan be ready in the face of further tensions?
- Financial measures: Whether targeted strike or widespread conflict, we need to assess the impact to Taiwan’s financial markets in both scenarios, and prepare measures to stabilize the markets if necessary.
- Key industries: Assess how Taiwan’s key industries will be affected. Many of Taiwan’s industries, such as in the global hardware supply chain, are both competing and complementing with counterparts in South Korea. In the event of conflict, how will South Korea’s economy change, and how should our industries respond?
- Metals and energy supply: Taiwan relies on imports by ship for its metals, raw materials, and fossil fuels. Our state-owned enterprises, like China Petroleum or Taipower, should have plans to ensure acquisition and shipment of energy sources.
- Biological weapons defense readiness: North Korea also has an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, and is likely not shy about using them. They can be launched using existing traditional delivery vehicles and ballistic weapons. Is Taiwan ready to at the very least supply and assist regional allies?
- Humanitarian aid: Taiwan has made a reputation for itself internationally as an active and capable provider of humanitarian aid. In the case of violence, does Taiwan have enough food, medical supplies, and capacity to deploy humanitarian aid to conflict zones right in our backyard?
- Communications with the US, South Korea, Japan, and China: A conflict in North Korea would certainly involve Taiwan’s closest military partners, the United States and Japan, not to mention South Korea. Taiwan should actively propose working plans to facilitate closer working relations and better lines of mutual communication with these regional partners. With China, Taiwan should also find a way to communicate and reduce the risk of miscalculation.
- The executive: President Tsai’s national security and intelligence advisors need to prepare the president with speeches, directives, and readiness plans, instead of trying to simply react to the changing situation outside of Taiwan. Government ministries must not be left to act separately, but there needs to be a comprehensive plan from the leadership.
The rising uncertainty in East Asia has, for better or worse, drawn the United States back into the region. Taiwan cannot consider itself an uninterested bystander.