Taiwan Suspects Chinese Ships Cut Underwater Internet Cables

Taiwan (AP) —

The Matsu Islands are now even more isolated. Internet connection for residents of Taiwan’s outer islands off the Chinese coast has been cut off for the past month. The loss of this important communication channel has had an impact on local businesses.

The owner of the inn, Tsao Li-yu, said this had an impact on bookings. “After the underwater cable was cut, many customers canceled their room orders for March and April,” he complained.

He estimates his business has lost 10% to 20% of room bookings because he is unable to provide Internet. To connect to the outside world, Matsu’s 14,000 residents rely on two undersea internet cables connected to the main island of Taiwan.

A shopping and business center in Nangan, part of the Matsu Islands, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (AP)

A shopping and business center in Nangan, part of the Matsu Islands, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (AP)

Taiwanese authorities have located the two Chinese ships at the site of the cut in the two undersea cables, based on data from an automatic identification system, similar to GPS, that pinpoints their location over the waters there.

The National Communications Commission said a Chinese fishing vessel allegedly cut the first cable some 50 kilometers out to sea. Six days later, on February 8, the second vessel, a Chinese cargo ship, severed the second cable.

Taiwan’s coast guard pursued a fishing vessel they suspected of cutting the first cable on Feb. 2, but it fled back into Chinese waters, according to an official who was briefed on the incident and not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Taiwan’s government has not come forward with a statement alleging that the disconnection of the Internet cable was intentional on Beijing’s part and there is no direct evidence to suggest that the Chinese ships were responsible. Chinese fishing boats and sand dredgers have frequently entered Taiwanese waters in recent years.

Su Tzu-yun is a defense expert at the government research institute, the National Defense and Security Research Institute.

“We cannot rule out that China damaged it on purpose, because US Navy research shows that the only countries in the world capable of destroying or gluing undersea cables are Russia and China,” he said.

He cited a study that only China and Russia have the technical capabilities to do this. “Taiwan needs to invest more resources to repair and protect the cables,” he added.

Some experts suspect China may have cut the cable as part of its intimidation of the self-governing island it regards as its territory. They refer to Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s Internet infrastructure as a weapon of war.

China regularly sends warplanes and naval vessels into Taiwanese territory to intimidate the island’s democratic government.

For a while, the residents of the Matsu Islands were forced to connect to the restricted Internet via microwave radio transmission, an old technology, as a backup. That means one can wait hours for an SMS to be sent. The phone call will be disconnected, and the video cannot be watched.

Chunghwa Telecom has installed microwave transmissions as backup for residents. Broadcast from Yangmingshan, a mountain outside Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, the relay beamed a signal about 200 kilometers to Matsu.

Wang Chung Ming, head of the Lienchiang District, as Matsu island is officially called, said he and the legislator from Matsu went to Taipei shortly after the internet broke to ask for help, and were told they would get priority for any future Internet connection plans.

However, for now, the only thing the citizens could do was wait. The cable-laying ships are expected to arrive as early as April 20, as the number of vessels that can do the job is limited. [lt/jm]

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