Cyber Statecraft Initiative Program Assistant Anni Piiparinen writes for The Diplomat on why the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs to get serious about the role of cyberspace in conflicts over the South China Sea:
As China expands its foothold in the Spratly islands, piling sand and building airstrips on the contested reefs in the middle of the South China Sea, the world has turned its attention back to the territorial disputes that have lingered in the region for decades. While naval strategies and broader military doctrine have dominated the recent headlines, one crucial element of modern conflict has been surprisingly missing from the debate over the South China Sea: cyberspace.
If the past is any guide, however, future escalation in the disputed waters is likely to spill over to the cyber realm regardless of where it starts. According to reports by FireEye, Kaspersky Lab’s Securelist, and CrowdStrike, the Southeast Asian claimants to the South China Sea, along with private companies doing business in the region, have been popular targets of advanced intrusion operations originating from China. Chinese cyber units and malware variants have successfully infiltrated public networks in the region, primarily targeting top-level government agencies and civil and military organizations in the Philippines and Vietnam.