Thousands of residents in Taiwan’s outlying islands have been without the internet for the past month after Chinese ships cut the internet cables connecting them to the outside world.
Thousands of residents of Taiwan’s outlying islands near the Chinese coast have been without the internet for the past month. (AP Photo)
By India Today World Desk: Hostilities between China and Taiwan have peaked in the past year, with Beijing staging military drills and flying fighter jets close to Taiwanese territory as it doubles down on its one-China principle.
Now, Taiwan has accused Chinese ships of severing the internet cables which connect its outlying islands to the outside world.
The 14,000 people living in Matsu, one of Taiwan’s outlying islands, rely on two submarine internet cables leading to the main island. The first cable was severed on February 2 by a Chinese fishing vessel some 50 kilometres out at sea, said a report by AP news. Six days later, on February 8, a Chinese cargo ship cut the second, said AP, citing Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan’s largest service provider and owner of the cables.
ALSO READ | China says should advance ‘peaceful reunification’ with Taiwan
After the cables were cut, the islanders were forced to hook up to a limited internet via microwave radio transmission, as backup. This means that people sometimes had to wait hours to send a text. Calls would drop, and videos were unwatchable.
Apart from disrupting lives, the loss of the internet cables also has huge implications for national security. Elizabeth Shaw, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in Foreign Policy last month that the activity resembles “targeted harassment by Beijing—or an exercise in preparation for cutting off the whole of Taiwan”.
Chunghwa Telecom said the cables had been cut a total of 27 times in the past five years.
When the first cable was cut on February 2, Taiwan’s coast guard gave chase to the fishing vessel but it went back to Chinese waters, said AP, citing a person who was briefed on the incident.
ALSO READ | Taiwan military to get $619 million US arms boost as China keeps up pressure
Su Tzu-yun, a defense expert at the government think tank, Institute for National Defense and Security Research told AP that it cannot be ruled out that China destroyed the cables on purpose.
Last year, Taiwan’s Ministry of Digital Affairs publicly asked for bids from low-Earth orbit satellite operators to provide the internet in a backup plan after seeing Russia’s cyberattacks on Ukraine. However, the plan has been stalled as a law in Taiwan requires the providers to be at least 51% owned by a domestic shareholder.
A spokesperson for the Digital Ministry had raised questions about the backup plans to the National Communications Commission. The NCC said it will install a surveillance system for the undersea cables, while relying on microwave transmission as a backup option.
The repair of the cables is also gonna cost the Taiwan government as an early estimate put the cost of work on the ships alone at $30 million New Taiwan Dollars (USD 1 million).
ALSO READ | US concerned as Chinese propaganda efforts become more like Russia’s
HOW ARE LOCALS REACTING?
Chen Yu-lin, a bed and breakfast owner who lives in Beigan, one of Matsu’s main residential islands, told AP news that a lot of tourists cancelled their bookings because there’s no internet.
People are also having a hard time making doctor’s appointments as they are forced to visit the hospital just to get an appointment.
A breakfast shop owner said she lost thousands of dollars in the past few weeks because she usually takes online orders.
ALSO READ | US to expand Taiwan military training amid threat from China