It seems China could seize Taiwan without force, after all. Just by blockading the island and cutting off its vulnerable Internet infrastructure. But will it really be that easy?

Communication Blackout

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently uploaded a video discussing how China could potentially target Taiwan’s fourteen submarine cables if the brewing tension turns fiery hot.

In August, Beijing conducted extensive military drills surrounding the island of Taiwan, where some of the critical Internet infrastructures were submerged. Although the superpower nation didn’t mention targeting these highly valuable cables, its increasing military activities around the area could put these connections at risk.

“If the complication was not able to function very well during the war time, that will become a disaster,” said Kenny Huang, CEO of Taiwan Network Information Center, in an interview with WSJ.

Submarine communication cables, invented in the 1840s, are rarely wider than a garden hose and contain optical fibers that carry data. It stretches for thousands of miles across the ocean floor, connecting countries across the globe. The first commercial cable was reportedly laid in 1850, with “the first trans-Pacific cables connecting the United States mainland to Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines” completed in the early 1900s, and it has come a long way since.

Today, submarine cables transmit approximately 98 percent of international internet traffic, and Taiwan’s infrastructure is critical to keeping the Asia-Pacific region online.

Taiwan Seabed Connection in Asia
(Screenshot from submarinecablemap.com)

“North Asia to Southeast Asia is need to go through either go through Taiwan or nearby ocean,” Huang said. Even a minor technical issue with these cables could already pose a problem for its neighboring countries. Temporarily going offline would be catastrophic, which had happened in the past due to maritime activities (Taiwan has the busiest waterway) and natural disasters (such as earthquakes and typhoons) that had severely damaged these cables.

“If there’s a conflict between Taiwan and China, there are very high possibility that the initial target could be a cable station,” Huang added. An angle that isn’t news to the US military.

This has been demonstrated and proven in last year’s wargames conducted by the US Think tank that focused on this specific dilemma.

Bolstering Protection Over Strategic Resources

Recognizing this, Taiwan has been preparing contingency plans for the worst-case scenario. According to the WSJ, among the solutions being considered are more internet connections, such as the new subsea cable “Apricot,” which will provide Taipei with an alternative connection route to Singapore, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. It is expected to be operational in 2024.

Apricot
(Screenshot from submarinecablemap.com)

In addition, the country tapped SpaceX Starlink for a future backup system via a low earth orbit satellite. This would facilitate internet access without needing physical connections over land or sea.

You can watch the entire video report below. 

Island Blockade

Following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in early August, China launched its largest-ever military exercise around the island. It has simulated a blockade by closing six surrounding zones and choking Taiwan’s entry and exit waterways.

“They have a very large navy, and if they want to bully and put ships around Taiwan, they very much can do that,” Vice Adm. Karl Thomas told reporters earlier this week.

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Beijing could avoid a full-scale invasion by blocking imports and exports over the claimed island. Nevertheless, Thomas said that pushing through this approach would give the “international community” time to decide what course of action to take in response to the indirect invasion.

“Clearly if they do something that’s non-kinetic, which, you know, a blockade is less kinetic, then that allows the international community to weigh in and to work together on how we’re going to solve that challenge,” he explained.

Taiwan to China: Never Allow to “Meddle”

On Wednesday, Beijing proposed a peaceful “reunification” pledge to the democratically-governed Taiwan, which the latter flat-out denounced.

Reuters reported that Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said the island’s future was up to 23 million people to decide, adding that “[I]t allows no meddling by the other side of the Taiwan Strait.”

In a news conference, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson, Ma Xiaoguang, said China has also proposed a “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan.

He explained that under this formula, Taipei could continue having its distinct “social system,” but only “under the precondition of ensuring national sovereignty, security, and development interests.”

Taiwanese people have also long rejected this proposal, with a landslide “no support” to it, including political parties and the public. This has been further cemented after it witnessed what China did to Hong Kong in 2020.