China is planning a $500 million undersea broadband connection to compete with a project supported by the United States.

A $500 million undersea fiber-optic internet cable network connecting Asia, the Middle East, and Europe is being developed by state-owned Chinese telecom companies to compete with a comparable U.S.-backed project, according to four persons engaged in the arrangement. The strategy is a warning that an escalating digital conflict between Beijing and Washington runs the risk of rupturing the web’s infrastructure.

According to the four people with direct knowledge of the plan, China’s three major carriers, China Telecommunications Corporation (China Telecom), China Mobile Limited, and China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd (China Unicom), are developing one of the most cutting-edge and extensive subsea cable networks in the world.

The proposed cable, known as EMA (Europe-Middle East-Asia), would connect Hong Kong to the Chinese province of Hainan before winding its way to Singapore, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and France, according to the four persons. They requested anonymity since they were forbidden from talking about potential trade secrets.

The people added that China’s HMN Technologies Co Ltd, a rapidly expanding cable company whose parent company was majority-owned by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, would construct and lay the cable, which would cost about $500 million to complete.

They claimed that the Chinese government would provide financial aid to HMN Tech, which is majority owned by the Hengtong Optic-Electric Co Ltd, a company listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Requests for comment from China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, HMN Tech, Hengtong, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry went unanswered.

The announcement of the cable comes after a report last month detailed how the U.S. government has successfully stopped a number of Chinese underwater cable projects abroad over the past four years out of worries that Beijing could be listening in on internet traffic. The United States and Hong Kong, a territory of China, would have been connected by planned private undersea cables, including initiatives sponsored by Google LLC, Meta Platforms, Inc., and Inc.

More than 95% of all international internet traffic travels on submarine cables. For many years, consortia of telecom and technology corporations have held these high-speed channels, pooling their resources to create these enormous networks that enable seamless data transfer throughout the globe.
Yet, in an intensifying rivalry between the United States and China, these cables—which are susceptible to eavesdropping and sabotage—have evolved into weapons of influence. The superpowers are competing for control of cutting-edge technology that will likely determine economic and military dominance in the coming decades.

The Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-6 (SeameWe-6) cable, which is currently being built by the American company SubCom LLC and will also connect Singapore to France via Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a half-dozen other nations along the route, is directly competing with the China-led EMA project.

HMN Tech was first chosen to build the SeaMeWe-6 cable by the consortium, which originally consisted of telecom providers from numerous additional countries in addition to China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom. But, Reuters reported in March that a successful U.S. government pressure campaign resulted in SubCom receiving the deal last year.

The American bombardment included offering foreign telecom companies training subsidies worth millions of dollars in exchange for them picking SubCom over HMN Tech. In December 2021, the U.S. Commerce Department imposed penalties on HMN Tech as well on the grounds that the business planned to buy American technology to aid in the modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army. This action made it impossible for owners of HMN-built cables to sell bandwidth to US IT companies, which are typically those companies’ largest clients, undermining the project’s viability.

After SubCom won the contract last year and started planning the EMA cable, China Telecom and China Mobile withdrew from the project, according to the four people involved. More than half of the new network is planned to be held by the three state-owned Chinese telecom companies, but they are also entering into agreements with foreign partners, according to the sources.

According to the sources, the Chinese carriers inked separate memorandums of understanding with four telecoms this year: Zain Saudi Arabia, a division of the Kuwaiti company Mobile Telecommunications Company K.S.C.P., Telecom Egypt, Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd., and France’s Orange SA.

The Chinese businesses have also discussed joining the partnership with Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (Singtel), a state-controlled company, and other nations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are also being approached, according to those involved.

Orange opted not to respond. Requests for comment from Singtel, PTCL, Telecom Egypt, and Zain went unanswered.

SubCom, an American cable company, declined to comment on the competing cable. The Department of Justice declined to comment on the EMA cable despite being in charge of an interagency task force to protect American telecommunications networks from espionage and hacking.

The United States supports a free, open, and secure internet, according to a State Department official. Without identifying HMN Tech or China, the spokesman stated that nations should prioritize security and privacy by “completely eliminating untrustworthy vendors” from wireless networks, terrestrial and undersea cables, satellites, cloud services, and data centers. When asked if it will launch a campaign to convince international telcos not to take part in the EMA cable project, the State Department did not comment.


From conception to completion, large underwater cable projects normally require at least three years. According to those engaged, the Chinese companies plan to complete their contracts by year’s end and launch the EMA cable by the end of 2025.

One of the parties to the arrangement predicted that the cable would benefit China strategically in its conflict with the United States.

First of all, Washington wants to prevent the development of a brand-new, extremely fast connection between Hong Kong, China, and much of the rest of the globe. Second, it expands the reach and protection of China’s state-backed telecom operators in case they are ever cut off from U.S.-backed cables.

One telecom executive involved in the agreement stated, “It seems like each side is arming itself with bandwidth.”

According to the four people involved in the initiative, there have never been parallel cables built between Asia and Europe that are supported by both the United States and China. According to two security specialists, it is a warning that over the next ten years, the world’s internet infrastructure, including cables, data centers, and mobile phone networks, may become separated.

According to Timothy Heath, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based think tank, countries might be forced to choose between using Chinese-approved internet infrastructure or U.S.-backed networks, further entrenching global divisions and making tools that power the global economy, like online banking and global positioning satellite systems, slower and less dependable.

According to Timothy Heath, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based think tank, countries might be forced to choose between using Chinese-approved internet infrastructure or U.S.-backed networks, further entrenching global divisions and making tools that power the global economy, like online banking and global positioning satellite systems, slower and less dependable.

According to Heath, there will likely be a Chinese-led online ecosystem in addition to a U.S.-led internet. The more the United States and China distance themselves from one another in the information technology sector, the more challenging it is to conduct basic operations and conduct international trade.

The internet functions so well, according to Antonia Hmaidi, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, because data can move across a variety of pathways in less time than it takes to read this sentence, regardless of where it needs to go.

According to Hmaidi, if data must travel through channels that are approved in Washington and Beijing, it will be simpler for the US and China to manipulate and snoop on it; internet users will experience a decline in service; and it will be more challenging to communicate with or conduct business with people from other countries.

The entire structure of the internet “then suddenly doesn’t work as it was designed,” Hmaidi remarked.

The rivalry between American and Chinese companies over social media apps and search engines is mirrored in the tit-for-tat combat over internet gear.

Due to concerns over national security, the United States and its allies have forbidden the use of the Chinese-owned short video app TikTok on government-owned devices. Concerns about the Chinese government obtaining access to the information TikTok gathers on its users worldwide have been expressed by a number of nations.

Although this is going on, China already limits which websites its residents can access and prohibits the networks and apps of several Western technological behemoths, including Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.


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