by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Chen Huang/WikiCommons/CC BY 3.0

TWO SUBMARINE CABLES connecting the Taiwanese mainland and the outlying island of Matsu, which constitutes Lienchiang county, have been reported to have been cut. Specifically, two wires, the No. 2 and No. 3 Taima submarine cables, were reported as having been cut. The No. 2 cable was cut by a Chinese fishing vessel, while No. 3 cable was cut by a Chinese freighter. In particular, the No. 2 Taima cable connects Dongyin Island to Tamsui in New Taipei, while the No. 3 Taima cable connects Nangan Island and Taoyuan.

As a result of the cut cable, the Internet has become incredibly slow in Matsu, to the extent that it takes more than ten minutes to send a text message, and there are also issues placing phone calls. Issues have lasted for over ten days, with one wire cut on February 2nd and the other on February 8th.

Legislators Cheng Yun-peng (left) and Hung Sun-han (right) at a press conference held about the incident. Photo credit: Hung Sun-han/Facebook

An international cable ship will arrive on April 20th and repairs are expected to be completed by the end of the month. The cost of repairing each wire will range from 10 million NT to 20 million NT and it costs 40,000 USD to operate this ship each day. However, backlash over the slow speed of repairs has led Chunghwa Telecom to state that it is seeking faster solutions and is in communication with other international cable ships.

To deal with this issue, Chunghwa Telecom is allowing free use of wi-fi at stores in Matsu, and it has waived fees for users in Matsu this month. Likewise, Chunghwa Telecom is seeking to expand the capacity of its back-up microwave system from 3.8 Gbps to 4.382 Gbps by the end of June and 8.148 Gbps at the end of the year. A fourth submarine cable connecting the Taiwanese mainland and Matsu is under construction, with an expected completion date of 2025.

According to Wong Po-tsung, the vice chair of the National Communications Commission, there is as yet no evidence that the cutting of the cables is due to deliberate Chinese sabotage. However, it is unusual for two wires to be cut so close to each other.

Indeed, there have been increased concerns as of late that China could potentially take military action against Taiwan short of a full-scale invasion by attacking an outlying island of Taiwan. A cut submarine cable could potentially disrupt communications and isolate Matsu for a significant period of time, making it easier to stage an attack.

Submarine cables connecting Taiwan and Matsu were cut 25 times in the past five years. In addition to the two times it has happened this year so far, this took place four times in 2022 and five times in 2021. Oftentimes, submarine cables have been cut as a result of Chinese vessels engaged in illegal sand dredging in Taiwanese waters.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan delegation of politicians including NCC officials, KMT legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng, and DPP legislator Hung Sun-han inspected the microwave back-up system. Subsequently, DPP politicians including Hung, Lienchiang county chapter director Lii Wen, and Taoyuan legislator Cheng Yun-peng held a press conference emphasizing that the Tsai administration was working to resolve the matter. Likewise, participants in the press conference called on KMT vice chair Andrew Hsia, who is currently visiting China and met with Taiwan Affairs Office head Song Tao and CCP chief ideologist Wang Huning during his trip, to raise the matter with Chinese officials instead of simply following China’s script.

Past incidents involving cut submarine cables between Taiwan and Matsu. Photo credit: Lii Wen/Facebook

This has not prevented backlash from the pan-Blue camp, which has sought to redirect blame away from China and toward the Tsai administration. Lienchiang county magistrate Wang Chung-ming, Lienchiang county legislator Chen Xue-sheng, Lienchiang county speaker Chang Yung-chiang, and the other members of the Lienchiang county council traveled to Taipei yesterday to hold a press conference condemning the Tsai administration for inaction. Lienchiang county slants heavily KMT, though two members of the county council are pan-Blue independents.

More generally, it proves a common refrain for local pan-Blue politicians in Taiwan to attack the central government of the Tsai administration to provide their constituencies with sufficient resources, and this is no different with outlying islands of Taiwan. This has been a particularly charged issue since the COVID-19 pandemic, in light of vaccine distribution and comparatively limited medical resources in outlying islands.

It is to be seen, however, whether there is more concerted action taken on the issue of Matsu’s Internet access going forward after this incident. It is also possible that such incidents will lead to greater priority placed on satellite Internet access for Matsu and other outlying islands.

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