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Taiwan wants to avoid going totally offline if its communication infrastructure is damaged and is asking Europe for help.
Taiwanese ministers visited Brussels and other European countries, including the UK and Luxembourg, in June, seeking support for efforts to build a more resilient digital infrastructure and, if needed, a comprehensive backup of communications. Efforts come in the way relationships that Taiwan suspects that Chinese ships have cut two submarine cables, blocking the Internet for thousands of citizens.
« We are preparing to become more resilient. Telecommunications obviously are very important in terms of resilience for the whole country, » Taiwan Deputy Economy Minister Chern-Chyi Chen said in an interview.
Taiwan is « working with partners » to increase its resilience on this front, he said, citing satellite communications systems as one area of collaboration. Satellite-powered broadband internet systems, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink and the EU’s upcoming IRIS2 system, have garnered attention since the start of the war in Ukraine, which has underlined the importance of having a backup of communications.
Taiwanese Minister for Digital Audrey Tang is in charge of building a satellite-based backup network; she visited UK-based satellite provider OneWeb in mid-June. Her visit was followed by reports, quoting Tangthat OneWeb will provide satellite Internet to Taiwan by the end of this year.
Both ministers, however, declined to confirm whether efforts are intended to prepare for a scenario in which China cuts undersea internet cables to the island.
When asked about the danger of China cutting submarine cables, Chen said « there is emergency training » but added that he did not see « an immediate and concrete military threat ». In a press release released after Tang’s visit to OneWeb, it was noted that Taiwan has been facing « uncertainties such as earthquakes and foreign forces for years. »
« In an emergency, Taiwan is likely to experience a communications outage caused by a damaged submarine cable, » the statement read.
OneWeb is not the only European satellite provider that Taiwan is approaching. During a visit to Brussels in late June, Tang said the country is already collaborating with Luxembourg satellite network provider SES. That Association it centers on a request from the Taiwanese government to « rapidly restore cloud services in a disaster scenario » for which SES and Microsoft have devised a private 5G network.
Field networks can be disrupted abruptly, especially in disaster-prone regions, said Suzanne Ong, who manages media relations at SES. In a demonstration, Taiwan firefighters concluded they could rely on the satellite network to respond in the event of a disaster, she added.
Chen said there are « satellite collaboration projects with European countries » but did not specify which ones. Last week, Lithuania, a longtime Chinese hawk, released a new Asian strategy in which it said it would boost its cooperation with Taiwan on technology and resilience.
Taiwan also urged the EU to work together on cybersecurity issues, keeping each other abreast of certain threats. « If there are different threats targeting different ecosystems, we can set up sharing threat indicators, » Tang said at an event in Brussels in late June.
tang also had a meeting that day with the Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks. The Commission did not comment on whether Taiwan’s possible involvement in the EU’s satellite backup network emerged during the meeting.
The Commission did not respond to a request for comment.