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US antics divide subsea cable market into East and West

by on14 June 2023

Returning to the cold war

The subsea cable market is in danger of dividing into eastern and western blocs as the US is putting pressure on companies to avoid Chinese ties.  

The supply and installation of subsea cables has been dominated by companies from France, the US and Japan. The Chinese government started successfully penetrating the global market, but consecutive US administrations have since managed to freeze China out of large parts of it.

This was because the US claimed that the Chinese were spying on them or might disrupt strategic assets operated by Chinese companies in the event of a conflict. However, Chinese companies adapted by building international cables for China and many of its allied nations. This has raised fears of a dangerous division in who owns and manages the infrastructure underpinning the global web.

In 2018, Amazon, Meta, and China Mobile agreed to work together on a cable connecting California to Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. But a spate of manoeuvres in Washington to block Chinese participation in US cables led to China Mobile pulling out of the consortium.

Meta and Amazon filed a new application for the system in 2021, this time with no Chinese investment, no connection to Hong Kong, and a new name: Cap-1. Then, last year, the application for Cap-1 was withdrawn altogether, even though most of the 12,000km cable had already been built.

Apparently, over the last five years, as tensions between the China and the US mounted and fears have grown in Washington about the risks of espionage, the US government has sought to pull apart an interwoven network of internet cables that had developed through international collaboration over decades.


Last modified on 14 June 2023
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