MATSU, Taiwan – For several weeks in February, the local telecommunications office, an unremarkable grey building on the island of Nangan, became its hottest hangout spot.
Even after the Chunghwa Telecom outpost shuttered its gates at 9pm, residents would don their jackets and huddle outside with their mobile phones and laptops, braving the cold winds to squat on the steps in the dark.
They were there to use its Wi-Fi network to get online.
It was an inconvenient but necessary measure after the only two submarine Internet cables to the outlying Taiwanese Matsu archipelago were severed, most likely by Chinese vessels, within days of one another in early February.
Immediately, the 14,000 residents in the archipelago, of which Nangan is part, were knocked offline.
Chunghwa Telecom’s service worked, albeit slowly, as it relies on older microwave radio transmission technology. The telco, which is partly owned by the government, had set it up as backup for the residents.
Taiwan’s National Communications Commission suspects that the cables were damaged by two Chinese vessels, the first a fishing vessel on Feb 2 and the second a cargo ship on Feb 8.
An official who was briefed on the incident told the Associated Press that Taiwan’s coast guard trailed the fishing vessel, which cut the first cable before it returned to Chinese waters. Authorities also discovered two Chinese ships in the area where the cables were cut, said AP.
The government agency said that there is no evidence the cables were severed intentionally, but officials and security analysts say that the frequency with which they are damaged is cause for concern – and has national security implications for Taiwan.
Based on data from Chunghwa Telecom, the two cables connecting Matsu have been cut 27 times in the past five years, by vessels o...