Clumsy ships, one Chinese, sever submarine cables that connect Taiwanese islands
Vietnam has also struggled with four out of five cables in strife
Scenarios in which China invades Taiwan, and inducing strategic, diplomatic, economic, and tech supply chain crises, often imagine that Taiwan’s main island would be the main site of any kinetic action.
But Taiwan also hold territory just offshore from China – the island of Kinmen is just 10kms from the mainland city Xiamen. And further north, some of the Matsu island archipelago is less than 50kms away from mainland China.
In early February, life got a little harder in Matsu when two submarine cables providing internet service were damaged.
Last week, the deputy chairman and spokesman of Taiwan's National Communications Commission Weng Baizong told local media one of the cables was damaged by a Chinese fishing boat, while the other was damaged by an unknown freighter.
Chunghwa Telecom, the Taiwanese telco that operates one of the cables, apologised for the outage, explained that it has arranged for cable repair ships to arrive ASAP – in April – and boosted capacity of its microwave networks from 2.2 Gbps to 3.8Gbps so that residents enjoy faster connections.
Submarine cables are armoured in shallow waters to prevent damage from ships that drag their anchors or heavy nets. But in deeper waters they’re defenceless, although mariners can look up cables' locations so they can avoid damaging behaviour.
In this case, clearly someone wasn’t paying attention.
Which China may not mind at all: blinding Taiwan’s forward defences with a future cable cut would be an entirely sensible tactic in any future conflict.
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Meanwhile, a few hundred kilometres south, Vietnamese media have reported that as of late January four of the five submarine cables connecting the nation were either out of commission or delivering degraded performance.
Again, China won’t mind that at all: Vietnam is offering itself as an alternative source of manufacturing facilities and talent to organizations who feel their reliance on the Middle Kingdom may be risky.
Vietnamese sources haven’t connected their outages to China, and there are probably innocent explanations for the cable troubles.
Whatever the cause of the cuts, the incidents highlight the enormous strategic significance of submarine cables. ®