Here are two major events that happened this week in Asia, including South Korea-North Korea escalating tensions over the latter’s series of missile testing and a projection of the inevitable China-Taiwan war.

Pyongyang Continues To Taunt Seoul With Its Missile Testing

The back-and-forth between North Korea and South Korea continued to escalate this week as the former launched another missile test.

N. Korea Missile Testing
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervising Wednesday’s missile test, state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. (Image source: Twitter)

According to state media Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), the test involving two long-range strategic cruise missiles was to confirm the reliability in addition to “enhancing the combat efficiency and might” of its nuclear-powered weapons that are currently employed by the Korean People’s Army “for the operation of tactical nukes.”

Leader Kim Jong Un also stressed that the test launch was to send another warning to its adversaries, unveiling that the country would “continue to expand the operational sphere of the nuclear strategic armed forces to resolutely deter any crucial military crisis and war crisis at any time and completely take the initiative in it,” KCNA quoted.

Moreover, the state media reported that the North Korean leader personally oversaw the nuclear tactical drills over the past two weeks in retaliation for recent extensive naval exercises by South Korea and the US, including the use of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. It added that the two missiles test-fired on Wednesday soared across and struck their 2,000 km target for more or less 10,000 seconds.

A South Korean official has then remarked that, while the Pyongyang cruise missile can be easily intercepted considering its low speed, Seoul will keep its guards up and continue to monitor in real-time and “sternly respond” with force to any provocations from the North.

Nuclear Test To Resume Any Time Now

Speculations about the resumption of nuclear testing in North Korea have been circulating for some time, especially since news of completed technical preparations for a new test in the underground tunnels at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test site emerged. As to when it will start, only Pyongyang knows, really.

Kim is a notoriously unpredictable man, as demonstrated in 2017 when the country conducted a suspected hydrogen bomb test as well as launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking as far as the United States. While technical intelligence can now be obtained easily, thanks to technological advances, predicting such from a man like Kim would be impossible—or at least that’s what some Western officials residing in Seoul commented. Nonetheless, one thing is for sure: North Korea will definitely resume, especially after Kim said it no longer feels tied to the 2018 moratorium.

Following a briefing from its spy agency last month, South Korean lawmakers theorized that a nuclear “test” could occur between the Chinese Communist Party congress, which begins on October 16, and the US midterm elections on November 7. But matters such as the COVID-19 crisis in North Korea and the ongoing war in Ukraine may be considered by the North Korean leader, as well as the talks from partners in China and Russia.

If Pyongyang resumes its nuclear program, some analysts say it would push its plans to develop smaller warheads for battlefield use that would be purposely built to fit on short-range missiles such as the one fire-tested last week. Apart from that, smaller projectiles would allow North Korean forces to load multiple warheads on a single ICBM, increasing the power of a single missile strike while complicating existing missile defense. Not to mention its other tests, which include larger nuclear weapons.

“They’ve only conducted a pretty limited number of nuclear tests,” Vann Van Diepen said in a report by Reuters. Diepen is a former Korean expert with the US government who now works with the 38 North project. “And any weapons developer… would want to have a lot more tests under their belt to have the highest possible confidence that these weapons are going to work.”

As the US and its Western allies continue to assist in the conflict in Ukraine and the tense situation in Taiwan, only time can tell whether or not Kim will take advantage of these crises to advance his weapons program.

Ending The Week With Another Bang

Once again, North Korea fired another short-range ballistic missile and dozens of artillery rounds on Friday near the shared border with the South.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported that about a dozen North Korean military aircraft flew near the heavily guarded borders and fired nearly 600 rounds of artillery between the country’s “sea buffer zones,” deploying some of its fighter jets in response. The former’s National Security Council (NSC) also strongly condemned the North for further provoking the already tense situation—citing its actions as a violation of a 2018 bilateral military pact that prohibits “hostile acts” along the border.

With this, the JCS issued another warning to North Korea, urging them to stop hopping around the incredibly thinning ice. Moreover, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol vowed its citizens to immediately devise all necessary “watertight countermeasures.”

On the other hand, North Korea, through its state media, said that the Friday firing was its “strong military countermeasures” against the artillery firing by the South on Thursday, to which Seoul already clarified that it was only a “regular, legitimate” exercise.

According to news reports, the most recent missile firing occurred at 1:49 AM on Friday (1449 Thursday GMT) from the Sunan area near Pyongyang and soared about 700 km (435 miles) to an altitude of 50 km at a speed of Mach 6. The Japanese coastguard confirmed the launch, identifying it as at least the 41st ballistic missile test done by the North this year alone. Around 5 PM (0800 GMT) the same day, North fired nearly 400 artillery shells again into the sea off its east and west coasts for at least two hours, followed by another 170 rounds near the maritime border a couple of hours later.

The South Korean Air Force responded by sending out an emergency sortie, including its owned F-35A.

China-Taiwan War: ‘Could Come Sooner Rather Than Later, Experts Say

Another searing matter that threatens to reach its boiling point soon is the tension between China and Taiwan. Over the past year, numerous news outlet has been flooding predictions on when and how Beijing could initiate the invasion of Taiwan, especially after Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine earlier this year.

Earlier last year, a US senior official assessed that Taiwan might only have six years before it would suffer a Chinese military attack, ensuring ample time to prepare and ramp up its defense and military capabilities for at least until 2027. The then-outgoing US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Philip Davidson’s bold remarks have drawn a fair share of nodding heads and naysayers. But it’s just a prediction with no solid evidence to back it up. Yes, Beijing seems eager to hold Taipei by the neck, but Chinese President Xi Jinping has been nonstop promoting “peaceful reunification” as its preferred means. Even a year later, with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) increasing presence around the island country, Jinping continues to lean on negotiations rather than force.

Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader has been very vocal about wanting to expand the socioeconomic influence of the communist country across Asia and the Pacific—launching an invasion of Taiwan would mean jeopardizing their progress thus far, not to mention that it would need to pull off an amphibious attack considering the island is surrounded by waters, and history tells us how tricky that amphibious landing can be especially for a country who doesn’t specialize on naval warfare. Let alone have not fought a major war since 1979 against Vietnam.

Another assessment surfaced regarding the potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan in July by some analysts in the US intelligence community, lowering the six-year forecast as soon as 2024. The timeline has been aligned around Tawain’s January 2024 elections, in which analysts said that if the incumbent vice president, Lai Ching-te (also known as William Lai), succeeds the current popular President Tsai Ing-wen, “the odds of China taking military action” against the island will only grow.

But then again, the decision-making of the Chinese leader regarding the matter would fall again into the question: Are they willing to trade its economic growth to force nationalism to a sovereign Taiwan? Considering that a war between the two nations could last a year to a decade, retired CIA analyst John Culver wrote in his recently published analysis. Multilateral sanctions and blockade from the US would definitely crush China’s economic efforts, as well as break people-to-people contacts and ruin its pursuit of “reunification” with not just Taiwan but also with Hong Kong.

Other paths China could traverse to enforce its claim over democratic Taiwan would include short invasions, such as seizing off-coast islands and blockading the island country’s ports and trading routes, which would effectively pummel Taipei’s economy and possibly trigger political squabble.

So, How Would We Know China’s Going To War With Taiwan?

Culver said that if Beijing had outright decided to invade Taiwan 18-24 months from now, it would certainly not be a subtle one. The whole world will now, or at least those closely following the drama. It would be similar to Russia-Ukraine, with flocks of arsenals and munitions delivered to the island nation but focused more on naval, air, and amphibious warfare. Thus, if China is planning to launch an attack, among the obvious breadcrumb trails it would be leaving would be a “surging production of ballistic and cruise missiles; anti-air, air-to-air, and large rockets for long-range beach bombardment; and numerous other items, at least a year before D-Day,” Culver said.

“China also would take visible steps to insulate its economy, military, and key industries from disruptions and sanctions. This would go beyond its current industrial policies and dual circulation strategy, which collectively aim to achieve technological and material self-sufficiency, or even its limited measures against increasing US use of export controls, sanctions, and economic and financial pressure,” the retired CIA analyst added.

Meanwhile, financial aspects like the implementation of tighter cross-border capital controls, the freezing of foreign financial assets within China, and the quick liquidation and repatriation of Chinese assets held abroad would be near-term indicators of an impending conflict, Gerard DiPippo explained, a senior fellow from the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). What’s more, Beijing needs to psychologically prepare its people for the costs of war, including death that could climb to tens of thousands.

Given this, the recent forecasts saying China would likely invade Taiwan in 2024 doesn’t seem plausible anymore, does it? Because if it truly intends to launch it in two years, the CCP should have been working on countermeasures to mitigate the effects of the conflict as early as this year, which they aren’t.

What about covert planning? Would that be possible too? Yes. But knowing the capacity of the American intelligence community, if such a sneak attack has been mobilized, it would immediately be detected and be out in public as soon as possible, just like what happened four months before the Kremlin invaded Ukraine through the mask of “special military operation.”

Learning Lessons From Ukraine

The brutal invasion of Russia in Ukraine has somewhat awakened the international community regarding military preparedness. Since the attack, many have been stocking and restocking its arsenals; procuring and upgrading naval, air, amphibious, and other military vehicles; and bolstering defense capabilities; among many things. Joint military drills between allies across the globe have also increased, with the US aiding its partners in Asia-Pacific and Europe, while China strengthens its ties with Russia, North Korea, and several countries in the Middle East.

Taiwan is ramping up and has been in touch with the US forces since Beijing’s obvious bullying has been in place. On the other hand, Beijing seems to take note of its Russian ally and its disastrous invasion—noting its failure to take claim over Kyiv as a cautionary tale considering a failed attack for China would be far riskier.

The land invasion of Russian forces has been dragged on for nearly eight months, has endured sanctions, and has cost a chunk of its resources. What more for China, who has to pull the largest and farthest amphibious invasion in modern history? It would be an all-or-nothing for Beijing.