Angle: Taiwan’s communication infrastructure in danger of emergency, high hurdles for maintenance | Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan is scrambling to secure a way to communicate with the outside world in case China invades. Reuters spoke to several experts and officials, highlighting the grim reality that restoration of critical submarine cables is slow even in peacetime, and that backup satellite networks are not in place.

March 15, Taiwan is scrambling to secure a means of communicating with the outside world in the event of a Chinese invasion. FILE PHOTO: Nangan district of Matsu Island, Taiwan, January 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang

China has never ruled out an armed aggression against Taiwan, and in recent years has been increasing its military and political pressure on Taiwan.

Then the war in Ukraine broke out, and Taiwan felt a renewed sense of urgency to strengthen its security. In particular, they are prepared for a cyberattack by China or the cutting of 14 undersea cables that support Internet communication with the world.

Tseng Isuo, an analyst at Taiwan’s National Institute for Defense and Security Research (INDSR), a think tank under the Ministry of National Defense, said problems with strategic communications inside and outside the country have kept him awake at night, especially since the start of the Ukraine war. Revealed.

Low-orbit satellites are being envisioned as one solution by officials, who have already launched a two-year pilot program to expand Internet services by leveraging foreign satellite communications service companies.

According to Kenny Huang, chief executive of Taiwan Network Information Center (TWNIC), which handles domain management, the problem is that the total capacity of satellite communication lines used by Taiwan is only about 0.02% of that of submarine cables. According to Huang, while Taiwan has strict regulations that limit foreign ownership to 49%, there are no special incentives, making it difficult to attract foreign satellite communication service companies to invest. It is said that there is

“There are few incentives for foreign companies. Regulations have to change,” he said.

After being invaded by Russia, Ukraine actively uses Starlink, a satellite communication service of SpaceX led by businessman Elon Musk, for various communications. But Taiwanese defense experts worry about the dangers of relying on private companies with Chinese operations.

INDSR’s Tseng said, referring to the fact that Musk’s US electric vehicle (EV) maker, Tesla, sells cars in China, “I wonder if Mr. Musk cares more about the Chinese market (than Taiwan). I don’t know (but) we don’t put our fate in one company.”

Efforts are also underway to improve the resilience of the communication channels used by the command, including the president, in wartime, according to a senior Taiwanese government official and another person familiar with the matter.

“We take Mr. Zelensky (his actions) as a reference,” said a senior security official, citing the example of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s powerful social media presence.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Digital Development said in a statement that it would give priority to satellite communications pilot programs in offshore islands and expand microwave communications bands in surrounding islands by the end of the year.

The vulnerability of Taiwan’s telecommunications infrastructure was exposed in February of this year, when two undersea cables connecting Taiwan’s main island and Matsu Island were cut, leaving 14,000 islanders unable to connect to the Internet.

Authorities have so far investigated that a Chinese fishing vessel and a cargo vessel appeared to have cut off, but found no evidence of Chinese government involvement.

Chunghwa Telecom, the largest telecommunications company, switched to a backup communications system that sent microwaves from the mountains of Taipei to Matsu Island, but was only able to restore about 5% of the capacity provided by the cable. Although the government expanded this system earlier this month, and Internet communication speeds have improved dramatically, due to the lack of cable repair ships in Taiwan, it will be after the end of April before the residents’ Internet connection is fully restored. .

A senior Taiwan official who is familiar with security issues said that the fragility of submarine cables has long been a security concern, and that it is really stupid that a fundamental solution has not been worked out until now. I can’t even repair submarine cables on my own,” he said.

Lee Wen, head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s Matsudao branch, said the cable cut was a “alarm” for the whole of Taiwan. He asked, “What if all 14 cables connecting the world were destroyed? Are we adequately prepared?”

“In an emergency, people want information.

TWNIC’s Huang said the military consequences of a cut cable go beyond information blockage and panic. If the cable is cut, we anticipate that Taiwan may find it difficult to adequately implement responses that China cannot use to justify a full-scale attack.

As a result, Huang predicted that China would almost certainly cut the undersea cables in the beginning of an all-out invasion.

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(Reporters Sarah Wu, Yimou Lee)