China has been increasingly flexing its authoritarian muscle on the world stage, including in its provocations related to Taiwan, the island nation over which it claims control under the so-called “One China” policy.
Now, some Taiwanese officials are obliquely suggesting that the Chinese Communist Party might have been involved in recent attacks on the country’s internet framework.
According to reports, a pair of undersea cables that provide a connection for about 14,000 residents of Matsu were severed by Chinese ships in early February. Matsu is a small island closer to China’s mainland than the rest of Taiwan, but officials are clearly concerned that the destruction of its internet access could imply a threat to the wider nation.
A fishing boat was reportedly responsible for cutting the cable on Feb. 2 and Taiwan’s coast guard engaged in a pursuit that chased the vessel back to China. Less than a week later, a Chinese cargo ship reportedly cut the second cable, interrupting internet access across Matsu.
Matsu politician Wen Lii called for the vessels responsible for the damage to “be held accountable and pay compensation for the highly expensive repairs.”
"Taiwanese lawmakers say the cable cuts illuminate a vast national security weakness. “If an internet outage can happen on Matsu, the same could happen for Taiwan,” said @wen1949.
— William Yang (@WilliamYang120) March 9, 2023
As of the latest reports available, internet service had not been restored.
Whether accidental or intentional, multiple sources within Taiwan and around the world have emphasized the national security concerns that such an incident highlights.
Su Tzu-Yun of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research insisted that Taiwan needs to take the threat seriously, explaining: “We can’t rule out that China destroyed these on purpose. Taiwan needs to invest more resources in repairing and protecting the cables.”
In addition to the frustration that the prolonged internet outage has caused for residents who struggle to take care of daily tasks, those who rely on tourism for their income are in a particularly tough spot.
“A lot of tourists would cancel their booking because there’s no internet,” explained bed and breakfast owner Chen Yu-Lin. “Nowadays, the internet plays a very large role in people’s lives.”
Furthermore, the outage has taken a serious toll on the island’s defense and communication systems, which some fear could be a sign of an impending invasion.
Last month represented the most recent examples of such incidents. Over the span of five years, underwater cables that provide internet service to Taiwan have been cut more than two dozen times.