The internet has become an integral part of modern society, connecting people and businesses across the globe. One crucial but often overlooked aspect of the internet’s functioning is the vast network of subsea cables that lie on the ocean floor, responsible for transmitting over 95% of the world’s data. These undersea cables serve as the backbone of global communications, enabling data to flow between continents and supporting various activities, from personal internet use to critical government communications.
In recent years, China’s role in the subsea cables ecosystem has drawn significant attention. As China continues to assert its influence in various technological and geopolitical domains, its behavior in the cyberspace is increasingly reflected in its activities related to subsea cables. It’s vital to explores how China’s cyber behavior is manifested in the subsea cables ecosystem and the implications it holds for global data security and international relations.
China’s rapid economic growth and advancements in technology have fueled its ambition to become a dominant player in the global technology landscape. This ambition extends to the realm of undersea cables, where China seeks to establish itself as a major player.
One of the significant developments in this regard is the construction of the $500 million undersea fiber-optic internet cable network called EMA (Europe-Middle East-Asia), aiming to connect Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. This project, led by Chinese state-owned telecom firms and HMN Technologies Co Ltd, is seen as a direct response to a similar U.S.-backed initiative, reflecting the escalating tech war between China and the United States.
China’s investment in subsea cables aligns with its broader digital ambitions, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to improve international internet connectivity and promote digital infrastructure. The Digital Silk Road, a component of the BRI, focuses on enhancing digital connectivity between Asia, Africa, and Europe, presenting China with opportunities to exert influence in critical communication channels.
China’s active involvement in the subsea cables ecosystem has raised concerns among other nations, particularly the United States. Undersea cables are essential for both economic and military purposes, and their control could confer significant advantages in the ongoing great power competition between China and the U.S. The sheer volume of data traffic carried by these cables makes them valuable targets for state-sponsored cyber espionage and potential disruption.
One of the key areas of concern is the involvement of Chinese companies, such as Huawei, in subsea cable projects. Huawei’s presence in critical communication infrastructure has raised suspicions in some countries due to its perceived close ties to the Chinese government.
Critics worry that Huawei’s involvement may pose data security risks, potentially allowing unauthorized access to sensitive information or data rerouting to China.
Furthermore, China’s reported obstruction of subsea internet cable projects in the South China Sea has intensified concerns over data infrastructure control. Stricter permit requirements imposed by Beijing have led companies to avoid routes in the region, causing delays in cable deployment and raising questions about the free flow of information in international waters. This issue has not only affected the subsea cable sector but also encompasses broader geopolitical tensions involving fishing, oil exploration, and shipping routes.
The interconnected nature of the global internet and the reliance on subsea cables for critical services have intensified concerns about data privacy and security. China’s involvement in the subsea cables ecosystem has raised questions about the potential for state-sponsored cyber-espionage and data manipulation. The possibility of unauthorized data access or rerouting to China has prompted countries to evaluate the risks associated with data transmission through these cables.
Addressing data privacy and security concerns requires international cooperation and robust cybersecurity measures. The U.S. government, along with private sectors and its allies, is actively investing in the security and resilience of undersea cables to safeguard against potential espionage and disruptions.
China’s cyber behavior is indeed reflected in the subsea cables ecosystem, given its growing involvement and ambitious initiatives in this domain. As China asserts its influence in the global technology landscape, its actions in the subsea cables arena have significant geopolitical implications. Concerns over data security and privacy in the face of increasing cyber threats require nations to prioritize investment in the security and resilience of these critical infrastructures.
The competition for control over undersea cables is a manifestation of the broader geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States. Striking a balance between national security interests and international cooperation will be essential in addressing the challenges posed by China’s cyber behavior in the subsea cables ecosystem. Maintaining a secure and reliable subsea cables network is critical for the continued functioning of the global internet and the preservation of open and secure communication channels in the digital age.
The Author is an MS Research Fellow in International Relations with experience in global politics, women’s empowerment, and technology’s impact on human security. she is an enthusiastic and passionate researcher. can be reached at email@example.com