The Taima No. 2 and Taima No. 3 cables have been taken out of service, leaving the people of Taiwan’s Matsu Islands with very poor internet and phone services

Late last week, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission announced that the two active submarine cables connecting the Taiwanese mainland to the Matsu Islands (officially Lienchiang County) had been damaged, leaving the Island’s population with limited connectivity.

The damage allegedly occurred in two separate incidents, both involving Chinese vessels.

On February 2, the Taima No. 2 was damaged by a Chinese fishing vessel, with the traffic carried over the cable quickly switched to the Taima No. 3 cable. However, the latter was also damaged less than a week later, on February 8, by a passing Chinese cargo vessel.

With both cables damaged, the Matsu Island’s inhabitants have been forced to rely on Chunghwa Telecom’s backup infrastructure, which is struggling to deliver even simple connectivity services.

“It would take more than 10 minutes to send a text message, and sending a picture would take even longer,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lienchiang County chapter director Li Wen told the Taipei Times. “The booking system in hostels and logistics services cannot function normally either, let alone viewing content and films on social media.”

According to the Commission, an international cable ship has been contacted to repair the cables. The ship is expected to arrive at the damaged cables on April 20, with the work expected to be completed by the end of that month.

Chunghwa Telecom says it is seeking faster solutions and is already in discussions with other international cable ships regarding the repairs.

The operator is already in the process of deploying an additional submarine cable to the Islands in an attempt to bolster the region’s resilience. The new system is expected to be ready for service in 2025.

Damage to the Taima cables is nothing new for Taiwanese authorities. In the past five years, submarine cables connecting Taiwan to the Matsu Islands have been cut 25 times, including four times last year and five times in 2021.

Many of these incidents are related to fishing and sand-dredging by Chinese vessels, which are collecting sand for construction projects in China.

The actions of these ships are contentious by nature; Taiwan considers the waters surrounding the Matsu Island’s to be its sovereign territory, a position that China does not recognise. As a result, Taiwan’s civilian coast guard routinely patrol these waters to expel what they view as trespassing Chinese vessels.

Over the last year, as tensions between China and Taiwan have escalated, so too have the activities of Chinese ships in the region. In 2022, the coast guard expelled around 4,000 vessels from its territorial waters, up from just over 600 in 2021.

Some analysts suggest that this increase represents the latest step in China’s ‘grey-zone’ campaign against Taiwan, aiming to disrupt and exhaust the country’s resources via indirect harassment.

However, in the case of damage to the two submarine cables, the Commission stressed that there was no evidence of deliberate sabotage.

Nonetheless, for both cables to be damaged simultaneously remains highly unusual. At a time when geopolitical tensions are at a high, even indirect disruptions to critical infrastructure will are sure to be looked at with utmost suspicious.

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