Submarine fiber optic cables are considered one of the most important infrastructures in the digital age. They carry almost all Internet information transmissions around the globe. In recent years, China has risen rapidly in this field, which Western companies have traditionally dominated. Among the 400 some submarine optical cables in the world, the Chinese telecom company Huawei Marine has constructed or upgraded 105 of them.
TeleGeography, a Washington based telecommunications market research and consulting firm, has been mapping the world’s submarine cables. The latest statistics show that there are currently 406 submarine cables in the world. Alan Mauldin, the company’s research director, told Voice of America (VOA) that although China’s Huawei Marine has a relatively small market share, it has become one of the world’s four largest submarine cable contractors and has constructed most of the world’s submarine cables. The other three are SubCom in the U.S., the Alcatel Group in France, and NEC in Japan.
Huawei Marine was once a subsidiary of Huawei. After the U.S. launched a series of sanctions against Huawei in June of last year, Huawei sold the company to Hengtong, China’s other top fiber optic cable manufacturer. Hengtong claims to be a private enterprise. Its founder, Cui Genliang, is both the chairman of the group and the head of the company’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee.
According to data from Huawei Marine’s official website, the company has so far built or upgraded 105 submarine cables around the world. One recent project in December 2015 was the upgrade of the West Africa Submarine Cable System (WACS) that provides high-speed network access for 14 countries along the west coast of Africa from South Africa to the United Kingdom.
China’s state media People’s Daily reported last week that Chinese companies have not only become important global integrators in the construction of submarine cables, but also possess the world’s leading optical communication technology in submarine cable transmission, with “the production and sales of optical fiber cables accounting for more than half of the world’s market share.”
Compared with Huawei’s mobile communication equipment, the security risks posed by China’s submarine cable business have rarely been mentioned. However, in recent months there have been signs that the United States has begun to pay close attention. In April this year, the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the inclusion of Hong Kong in a fiber optic cable network across the Pacific Ocean due to national security considerations. The project, Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), involves a number of technology companies in the United States, including Facebook and Google. The original plan for the optical cable’s landing station in Hong Kong was to be operated by China’s Chengdu Dr. Peng Telecom & Media Co., Ltd. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a press release: “Routing undersea cables through Hong Kong would provide the People’s Republic of China with a strategic opportunity to collect the private information of our citizens and sensitive commercial data. Hong Kong is subject to intrusive Chinese government laws that put the Chinese Communist Party’s demands for information ahead of the privacy of U.S. consumers.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department put forward an initiative to protect network infrastructure, which also included submarine cables in the five major clean areas. So far, more than 40 countries have responded to the US’s “Clean Network” initiative.
In addition, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently called for a more rigorous review of submarine cables. Geoffrey Starks, who once served in the U.S. Department of Justice, said the FCC “must ensure that adversary countries and other hostile actors can’t tamper with, block, or intercept the communications they carry.”
Source: Voice of America, October 31, 2020