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US-China Tech War Threatens Global Internet Infrastructure: China Plans $500 Million Subsea Cable Rival

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Chinese state-owned telecom firms plan an extensive undersea fiber-optic internet cable network to link Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The cable, to be named EMA (Europe-Middle East-Asia), would cost approximately $500 million to complete and be manufactured and laid by China’s HMN Technologies Co Ltd, a fast-growing cable firm whose predecessor company was majority-owned by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. The three main Chinese telecom carriers—China Telecommunications Corporation (China Telecom), China Mobile Limited and China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd (China Unicom)—are expected to own more than half of the new network, but they are also striking deals with foreign partners, reported Reuters today.

The cable would link Hong Kong to China’s island province of Hainan before snaking its way to Singapore, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. The Chinese carriers have signed separate memoranda of understanding with four telecoms: France’s Orange SA, Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL), Telecom Egypt and Zain Saudi Arabia, a unit of the Kuwaiti firm Mobile Telecommunications Company K.S.C.P. They have also held talks with Singapore Telecommunications Limited (Singtel).

Infrastructure diviaion and surveillance: The construction of parallel U.S.- and Chinese-backed cables between Asia and Europe is unprecedented and a sign that global internet infrastructure could become divided over the next decade. If data has to follow routes that are approved in Washington and Beijing, then it will become easier for the two countries to manipulate and spy on that data, internet users will suffer a degradation of service, and it will become more difficult to interact or do business with people around the world.

The United States and its allies have also banned the use of the Chinese-owned short video app TikTok from government-owned devices due to national security concerns. The U.S. government has successfully thwarted a number of Chinese undersea cable projects abroad over the past four years, including projects led by Google LLC, Meta Platforms, Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

The U.S. blitz included giving millions of dollars in training grants to foreign telecom firms in return for them choosing American firms over Chinese ones, and the U.S. government also slapped sanctions on HMN Tech in December 2021, alleging the company intended to acquire American technology to help modernize China’s People’s Liberation Army.

China is pushing forward with the EMA cable project and expects to finalize contracts by the end of the year and have the cable online by the end of 2025. This will give China’s state-backed telecom carriers greater reach and protection in the event they are excluded from U.S.-backed cables in the future.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. government will mount a campaign to persuade foreign telecoms not to participate in the EMA cable project.

By CircleID Reporter

CircleID’s internal staff reporting on news tips and developing stories. Do you have information the professional Internet community should be aware of? Contact us.

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