Angle: Taiwan’s communications infrastructure at risk of crisis, high hurdles for maintenance | Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan is scrambling to secure a way to communicate with the outside world in case China invades. Experts and officials interviewed by Reuters have pointed to the grim reality that the restoration of critical undersea cables is slow, even in peacetime, and that there are no backup satellite networks in place.

March 15, Taiwan is scrambling to secure a means of communication 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 attack 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 being prepared for a cyber attack by China or the cutting of 14 submarine cables that support Internet communication with the world.

Tseng Isuo, an analyst at Taiwan’s National Institute of Defense and Security Research (INDSR), a think tank under the Ministry of National Defense, said problems with strategic communication inside and outside the country had kept him alert in at night, especially since the beginning of the. Ukraine war.

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

According to Kenny Huang, chief executive of the Taiwan Network Information Center (TWNIC), which deals with domain control, the problem is that the total capacity of satellite communication lines used by Taiwan is only about 0.02% of the capacity of submarine cables. According to Huang, although 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

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

After being invaded by Russia, Ukraine uses Starlink, the SpaceX satellite communication service 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 Musk’s US electric vehicle (EV) maker, Tesla, selling 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, during the war, 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 Digital Development Ministry said in a statement that it would prioritize satellite communications pilot programs in offshore islands and expand microwave communications bands in neighboring islands by the end of the year.

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

Authorities have so far investigated what appears to be a breakup of a Chinese fishing vessel and a cargo ship, but have 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. The government expanded this system earlier this month, and internet communication speeds have improved dramatically. .

A senior Taiwanese official familiar with security issues said that the fragility of submarine cables has been a security concern for a long time, and that it is truly ridiculous that even a basic solution has not been solved. I can’t even repair submarine cables. alone,” he said.

Lee Wen, head of the Matsudao branch of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the cable cut was an “alarm” for all of Taiwan. “What would happen if all 14 cables connecting us to the world were destroyed? Are we adequately prepared?” he asked.

“In a crisis, people want information.

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

As a result, Huang predicted that China would almost certainly cut the submarine cables at the start of an all-out attack.

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(Reporters Sarah Wu, Yimou Lee)