Submarine cable construction has become a new frontier in the U.S.-China game.

Submarine fiber-optic cables are considered one of the most important infrastructures of the digital age, carrying almost all of the world’s Internet traffic. China’s rapid rise in recent years in this area, traditionally dominated by Western companies, has seen China Telecom – Huawei Marine build or upgrade 105 of the world’s estimated 400 submarine cables, with the attendant cybersecurity risks causing great concern in the United States.

With the rapid development of the global information industry, the role of undersea fiber optic cables is more important than ever. Some 400 fiber-optic cables buried deep beneath the seabed form the backbone of today’s international Internet, carrying more than 95 percent of the world’s data traffic.

“Submarine cables are one of the most important components of the international Internet. If they were cut and removed there would be no international Internet,” Stanosielski, a professor of media, culture and communications at New York University and author of the book “The Undersea Network,” said that while satellites can also be used for Internet communications, they make up only a small portion of it.

Huawei’s ocean industry is already among the top

The construction of submarine cables is considered to be one of the most complex and difficult large-scale projects in the field of network infrastructure, as it involves many cutting-edge technologies such as deep-sea operations and optical transmission, and only a handful of countries in the world are capable of building submarine cables.

TeleGeography, based in Washington, D.C., is a recognized authority in the international submarine cable industry and is responsible for mapping the world’s submarine cables. Its latest statistics show that there are currently 406 submarine cables worldwide. Alan Mauldin, the company’s director of research, told VOA that China’s Huawei Marine was one of the world’s top four submarine cable engineers, although its market share was still relatively small.

Most of the world’s submarine cables are laid by four companies,” he said. These are SubCom in the US, Alcatel Group in France, Nippon Electric Corporation (NEC), and Huawei Marine in China.”

Huawei Marine was a subsidiary of Huawei, which sold the company last June to Jiangsu Hengtong Photovoltaic Co Ltd, another one of China’s other largest makers of power and fiber optic networks, after the United States began a series of sanctions against Huawei. Huntoon claims to be a private company, and its founder, Cui Genliang, holds several positions including secretary of the party committee, chairman of the board of directors and president of the company.

According to Huawei Marine’s official website, the company has so far built or upgraded 105 submarine cables around the world so far. Among the large-scale projects Huawei Marine has completed in recent years is the West African Submarine Cable System (WACS), which runs from South Africa to the United Kingdom and provides high-speed network access to 14 countries along the west coast of Africa.

A report by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology in May this year said that Huawei Marine, which was only established in 2008, has now increased its global market share to around 20 percent, based on estimates of ongoing and planned submarine cable projects for 2018-2020.

The Chinese company has become a major global integrator not only in laying submarine cables, but also in optical communication technology for submarine cable transmission, with fiber-optic cables “accounting for more than 50 percent of global production and sales,” according to a report last week in the People’s Daily, China’s official media.

Safety risks of submarine cables in China

The security risks of China’s submarine cable business had been less talked about than Huawei’s mobile communications equipment. But there have been signs in recent months that the US has begun to pay closer attention to the issue. In April, the US Department of Justice denied Hong Kong’s inclusion in a network of fiber-optic cables spanning the Pacific Ocean for national security reasons. The plan, called the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), would have involved a number of US tech companies, including Facebook and Google. The planned landing station at the Hong Kong end of the cable would have been operated by a company owned by China’s Dr. Peng Telecom Media Group, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In a June press release, the US Department of Homeland Security said: “The network access to Hong Kong would provide China with a strategic opportunity to collect information about our citizens and sensitive business data.”

The U.S. State Department earlier this year put forward an initiative aimed at protecting network infrastructure, which will also include submarine cables in the five clean areas, so far more than 40 countries have responded to the U.S. initiative called “clean network”.

In addition, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also recently called for a closer review of submarine cables. Once in the U.S. Department of Justice staff Starks (Geoffrey Starks) said last month, the Federal Communications Commission must ensure that hostile countries and other hostile actor “cannot tamper with, block or intercept the communications they transmit.

In an interview with the Voice of America, Zeng Yishuo, director of the Institute of Cyber Operations and Information Security at Taiwan’s National Defense Security Research Institute, said that submarine cables are responsible for most international communications on the one hand, and are vulnerable to malicious attacks and spy eavesdropping on the other. In theory, the Chinese government can cut off, jam, or monitor submarine cable communications.

He said: “The topic of submarine fiber optic cables has begun to attract the attention of Western countries, led by the United States. In the security concerns section, the main thing is that there will be the issue of Chinese communist theft.”

Last year, Zeng Yishuo wrote an article in the National Defense Situation Monthly that China could attack Taiwan with a malicious “disconnection” tactic, crippling Taiwan’s network system that connects it to the outside world. The report noted that China could either cut off the “transnational undersea fibre-optic cable” that connects Taiwan to the outside world, or attack Taiwan’s submarine cable landing station.