Experts are warning that China may be practicing for an invasion of Taiwan by cutting off its internet access, repeatedly severing undersea communications cables near the independent island nation.
Two internet cables between Taiwanese islands were severed in February and Taiwan said it suspected Chinese commercial vessels were responsible, The Associated Press reported. Experts told The Sun the incident was likely the latest in a series of Chinese operations to intimidate the island and practice the first stages of an invasion.
Cutting undersea communications cables “would cripple the functioning of modern society and give any attacker a free reign,” said Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
“It’s not just the government and hospitals that would cease to function but the ordinary citizens and business would be cut off,” she said, adding, “That would cause unrest, which is a factor that we shouldn’t underestimate. That would be as brutal as a military attack.”
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said there is “considerable military value” in cutting cables “from Taiwan’s offshore islands near the coast of China, as they host valuable Taiwanese intelligence gathering sensors.”
A Chinese fishing vessel that cut an internet cable to Taiwan’s Matsu Island on Feb. 2 was chased back to Chinese waters, and two Chinese ships near where the cables were cut were tracked using data similar to GPS, AP reported.
A 2021 investigation by Radio Free Asia indicated that Chinese fishing fleets are sometimes used as a front for intelligence gathering and asserting territorial claims.
The cables have been cut at least 27 times in the past five years, according to AP. Braw said cables “are cut much more than the global average” around Matsu Island and others in its archipelago.
Internet cables range from 20 millimeters to 30 millimeters in width and are armored with steel in shallow waters, but are still easily severed by ships, anchors, and steel fishing nets, according to AP. Braw maintained that despite the cables’ fragility, their repeated severing is likely a deliberate move by China.
“If it was an accident then you think the Chinese ships would take more care, but it keeps happening,” she said. “It’s very provocative and designed to make Taiwan feel helpless.”