CHINA has been cutting Taiwan’s internet cables as a “dry run” to terrorise the island ahead of a possible invasion, experts have warned.

Beijing has been accused of deploying its “dark fleet” of spy ships disguised as cargo vessels or fishing boats to carry out the attacks.

The self-governing island is regarded by China as being part of its territory and has vowed to re-unite it with the mainland by force if necessary.

Recent months have seen an upsurge in Chinese military activity around Taiwan with warplanes and ships simulating sealing it off.

The drills went up a gear last year when a senior US politician visited the island, then into overdrive last weekend when its president, Tsai Ying-wen, visited America.

But beneath the radar and away from its bellicose threats and sabre rattling, China has been preparing the ground for the isolation and ultimate capture of Taiwan.

Residents of the Taiwanese islands of Matsu, which are just 10 miles from the mainland, recently found that the internet cables connecting to Taiwan proper had been cut – again.

A Chinese fishing boat and a cargo ship seen lurking in the area were fingered as suspects for what would have been the 27th such incident.

Rick Fisher, an expert on China’s military from the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the cutting internet cables is a key part of any invasion strategy.

“In order to achieve an effective blockade of Taiwan and to maximize psychological pressure to force an early surrender, the severing of undersea communication cables would be a very high priority for the early stages of a Chinese invasion.  

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“Any pre-war cutting of undersea communication cables to Taiwan’s offshore islands would constitute practice for the People’s Liberation Army. 

“There is considerable military value for China in cutting undersea communication cables from Taiwan’s offshore islands near the coast of China, as they host valuable Taiwanese intelligence gathering sensors.”

In the meantime, cutting cable serves as a warning for the rest of Taiwan.

“Turning them into starving hostages only serves to warn most of Taiwan’s population that the Chinese Communist leadership will not hesitate to terrorise Taiwan and that its potential occupation will be horrific, forever.” 

Internet cables, which can be anywhere between 0.79 inches to 1.18 inches wide, are encased in steel armour in shallow waters where they’re more likely to run into ships.

But despite the protection, cables can get cut quite easily by ships and their anchors, or fishing boats using steel nets.

An investigation in 2021 found evidence that China’s state-owned fishing fleet maybe a front for intelligence operations.

Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise, who has written extensively about Taiwan’s defence, said it’s highly unlikely the cables were cut by accident.

“Every year around the world, cables are cut accidentally but around the Matsu Islands the cables are cut much more than the global average.

“If it was an accident then you think the Chinese ships would take more care but it keeps happening.

“It’s very provocative and designed to make Taiwan feel helpless.”

Not only is cutting the cables designed to soften up Taiwan psychologically but they serve as a “dry run” for what China could do ahead of an invasion.

A clearer picture has been emerging of how Beijing might subdue Taiwan and cutting it off from the outside world is widely seen as an essential first step if any invasion is to be successful.

“If you think how wars begin, you start by cutting off communications,” said Braw.

“It used to be destroying the television tower but these days it would be cutting off the internet cables.

“That would cripple the functioning of modern society and give any attacker a free reign.

“It’s not just the government and hospitals that would cease to function but the ordinary citizens and business would be cut off.

“You could cripple a modern country like Taiwan by cutting its cables.

“It wouldn’t just be the misery of not going about your daily life, everything is based upon connectivity.

“That would cause unrest, which is a factor that we shouldn’t under estimate. That would be as brutal as a military attack.”

She said China is not only “perfecting its techniques” but also the reaction of Taiwan’s military and the rest of the world.

Why is Taiwan a flashpoint between the US and China?

The dispute over Taiwan stems back to the Chinese civil war, which ended in 1949 with the victory of the Communist Party Mao Zedong.

Taiwan – with a population of just 22 million – was recognised by the as the government of China until 1971 when the mainland took its seat at the United Nations.

China’s deposed leader Chiang Kaishek, who was backed by US, fled with his defeat forces the island of Taiwan, about 100 miles off the coast of the mainland.

Taiwan has since developed an identity of its own and become a thriving democratic country with close ties to the West, in particular the US.

The party led by its current president Tsai Ingwen has independence as its ultimate goal.

But China continues to regard the island has being part of its territory and vowed to reunify it by force if necessary.

Even holding a vote on independence is widely seen as the trigger for war.

To that end China has been pouring billions into modernising its military, including now building a fleet of aircraft carriers to match the US Navy.

That has put the country on a collision course with the United States, its main arms supplier.

President Joe Biden has recently said America will defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

In recent years tensions have been rising as US air and naval forces patrol the sea around Taiwan, to China’s intense annoyance.

Chinese warplanes regularly buzz the island while it has stepped up rehearsals for invasion.

“It’s a nice contained area for China to test and see how people responded, both ordinary people and the government.

“Now we know Taiwan that can’t do very much and China knows it can cut internet access off and that it does cause enormous disruption.

“It was almost certainly a dry run for something that would be done to Taiwan proper.”

Braw is an expert on so-called ‘grey zone aggression’ – acts of intimidation that fall short of war, such as cutting internet cables.

She predicts China will escalate its cable cutting in the coming years in a bid to bring Taiwan to heel without having to fire a shot.

“Every meeting President Tsai meets with Western leaders, China will respond in a provocative manner and not just through military activity, which is why the cables are so exposed.

“Taiwan could see a couple of internet cables cut and what can it do in response? Its warships wouldn’t be in a position to chase the Chinese away.

“China might just want a submissive Taiwan and it could get that by using these tactics.”