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China 'cuts internet to Taiwan islands in latest intimidation tactic to force reunification'


National Communications Commission blamed Chinese ships for cutting cables

Some living on the island of Matsu have struggled with paying electricity bills

A woman walks in front of the Lienchiang County government's office in Matsu Island, Taiwan on March 6, 2023

China has been accused of cutting the internet to one of Taiwan's outlying islands as part of its latest intimidation tactic to force reunification.

Some living on Matsu, close to neighbouring China, were struggling to pay electricity bills, make a doctor's appointment or receive a package.

Matsu's 14,000 residents rely on two submarine internet cables leading to Taiwan's main island.

The National Communications Commission (NCC), citing the island's telecom service, blamed two Chinese ships for cutting the cables.

It said a Chinese fishing vessel is suspected of severing the first cable some 50 kilometres (31 miles) out at sea. Six days later, on February 8, a Chinese cargo ship cut the second, NCC said.

Taiwan's government stopped short of calling it a deliberate act on the part of Beijing, and there was no direct evidence to show the Chinese ships were responsible.

As the full-scale invasion of Ukraine has shown, Russia has made taking out internet infrastructure one of the key parts of its strategy.

Some experts suspect China may have cut the cables deliberately as part of its harassment of the self-ruled island it considers part of its territory, to be reunited by force if necessary.

China regularly sends warplanes and navy ships toward Taiwan as part of tactics to intimidate the island's democratic government. Concerns about China's invasion, and Taiwan's preparedness to withstand it, have increased since the war in Ukraine.

The islanders were forced to hook up to a limited internet service via microwave radio transmission, a more mature technology, as backup.

This meant sometimes waiting hours to send a text, calls dropping and videos becoming unwatchable.

'A lot of tourists would cancel their booking because there's no internet. Nowadays, the internet plays a very large role in people's lives,' said Chen, who lives in Beigan, one of Matsu's main residential islands.

The loss of the internet cables has also had huge implications for national security.

The cables had been cut 27 times in the past five years, but it was unclear which country the vessels hailed from, based on data from Chunghwa Telecom.

Taiwan's coast guard gave chase to the fishing vessel that cut the first cable on February 2, but it went back to Chinese waters, according to an official who was briefed on the incident and was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly.

Authorities found two Chinese ships in the area where the cables were cut, based on automated identification system data, similar to GPS, which shows a vessel's location.

'We can't rule out that China destroyed these on purpose,' said Su Tzu-yun, a defense expert at the government think tank, Institute for National Defense and Security Research, citing research that only China and Russia had the technical capabilities to do this.

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