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Taiwan, China Complete Direct Undersea Data Cable

by Ralph Jennings January 19, 2013

Telecommunications operators in mainland China and Taiwan finished a landmark undersea fiber optic data transmission cable Friday. The 270-kilometer line from Taipei to Fuzhou in China caps more than four years of first-ever transit and commerce links between the old political rivals. It may also invite business from telecom firms far beyond China.

China's two top telecom firms teamed up with four in Taiwan to build the $34.5 million cable across an ocean strait better known as a tense military buffer. With the cable's completion on January 18, voice calls, mobile data and Internet connections are expected to become stronger and faster, a lift to the recent boom in business relations.

Taiwan's Deputy Transportation Minister Yeh Kuang-shih told a completion ceremony in Taipei that his government had wanted a data cable as flights, ocean shipping and other links had already opened between the two sides.

He said the one thing left to be opened up was data transmissions. Yeh said his ministry had noticed the increasing cultural, social and economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland, so the flow of data was important. He added that the fiber optic cable has crucial symbolic and historic meaning.

Taiwanese officials began considering the cable in 2002 but because of icy political ties at the time could not start the project.

China has considered self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, and has threatened to take it by force if necessary. But since 2008, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and his mainland counterparts have put aside political disputes to negotiate trade, transit and investment deals geared to help the island economy. The cable project began under Ma's government.

With the new fiber optic cable, data will no longer need to be sent through slower indirect undersea cables. The boost in speed will smoothen connections between entertainers, investors and travel agents from the two growing economies. Two-way trade surpassed $100 billion in the first 10 months of last year, and Taiwan is steadily raising the number of sectors open to mainland Chinese investment.

Local operators say that in August, the two sides got direct data started with a fiber optic cable that runs from the Taiwan-controlled outlying islet of Kinmen to the mainland city of Xiamen a few kilometers away.

China Mobile Chief Executive Officer Li Yue said at the completion ceremony that the newer cable is crucial. The huge mainland provider's income from Taiwan rose nearly 40 percent in the first 11 months of last year and the number of roaming customers in Taiwan grew 15 percent.

Li said his company will definitely let the fiber optic cable open at an early date, expand it at an early date and, at an early date, provide higher quality service to businesses and mobile phone users on both sides of the Strait.

The line, named Fiber Optic Cable No. 1, also may attract telecom firms from places as far away as the United States. The group of Taiwanese operators said in a statement that firms from outside the region could use the relatively short cable from Taiwan as a gateway to China, which restricts direct foreign access.

The Taiwanese operators say their connection is less cumbersome than existing routes to China through Japan or South Korea.

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