Lazy eyes listen
Four sources familiar with the project told Reuters on Thursday that China’s major telecom firms are working on a vast undersea telecommunications cable network aimed at challenging the US’ supremacy in operating global internet infrastructure.
According to the sources, China Telecom, China Mobile Limited, and China Unicom are in the planning phases of a $500 million undersea fiber optic project connecting Asia with the Middle East and Europe. The vast network, known as EMA (Europe-Middle East-Asia), is said to compete with SeaMeWe-6, a cable system now under development by US business SubCom LLC. (Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-6).
In 2020, a consortium led by the Chinese telecommunications now working on EMA chose HMN Tech (previously Huawei Marine Networks) to produce the cable for SeaMeWe-6. However, despite much higher costs, a continuous US pressure campaign that included millions of dollars in “training grants” to foreign carriers in exchange for moving their votes ultimately moved the contract to HMN’s US competitor last year.
According to reports, the three Chinese telecoms have struck agreements with telecoms in France, Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, with further deals in the works in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. According to Reuters, the partnership intends to have EMA operational by the end of 2025.
According to one source, the benefits of such a project for China are obvious: a speedier connection between China, Hong Kong, and the rest of the globe that is not under US control provides Beijing with insurance should they be cut off from US-controlled networks. For years, Washington has been pushing to persuade allies to bar Chinese corporations from future infrastructure deals.
According to Reuters sources, the proposal foreshadows a rising split of global internet infrastructure into “a US-led internet and a Chinese-led internet ecosystem,” as defined by a researcher for the military-industrial think tank RAND Corporation.
“The more the United States and China disengage from each other in the information technology domain, the more difficult it becomes to carry out global commerce and basic functions,” RAND’s Timothy Heath told Reuters, warning that forcing third countries to choose between the two “sides” would make technologies such as GPS satellites and online banking much less reliable.
Splitting global internet traffic between two superpowers, according to Antonia Hmaidi of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, would significantly increase the likelihood of those superpowers manipulating and spying on data, with a general decline in quality and quantity of service until “suddenly the whole fabric of the internet doesn’t work as it was intended.”