China is moving ahead with plans to develop a $500 million undersea fiber-optic internet cable network, linking Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, according reporting from Reuters. This ambitious effort, spearheaded by state-owned Chinese telecom firms, is seen as a direct rival to a similar U.S.-backed project and threatens to deepen the ongoing tech war between Washington and Beijing.
The proposed cable network, dubbed Europe-Middle East-Asia (EMA), is being planned by China's three primary carriers - China Telecom, China Mobile Limited, and China Unicom. The network would stretch from Hong Kong to France, passing through China's island province of Hainan, Singapore, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
HMN Technologies Co Ltd, a Chinese cable company with ties to telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, is expected to manufacture and lay the cable, receiving subsidies from the Chinese government for the project.
Washington has also blocked licenses for private subsea cables connecting the United States with Hong Kong, including projects led by Google LLC, Meta Platforms, Inc., and Amazon.com Inc.
The EMA project is intended to challenge another cable currently being constructed by U.S. firm SubCom LLC, called SeaMeWe-6 (Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-6). The SeaMeWe-6 cable, originally involving the same Chinese telecom carriers, was initially set to be built by HMN Tech. However, due to U.S. government pressure, the contract was awarded to SubCom last year.
Sources say that the Chinese telecom firms, in collaboration with foreign partners, hope to finalize contracts for the EMA cable by the end of this year and have it operational by the end of 2025. The project would provide China with strategic advantages in its rivalry with the United States, including a super-fast connection between Hong Kong, China, and the rest of the world, and greater reach and protection for its state-backed telecom carriers.
This development marks an unprecedented parallel construction of U.S.- and Chinese-backed cables between Asia and Europe.
Analysts warn that this could lead to a division in global internet infrastructure over the next decade, forcing countries to choose between Chinese-approved or U.S.-backed networks and could create difficulties in carrying out global commerce and basic functions.
This battle over internet hardware mirrors the ongoing conflict surrounding social media apps and search engines created by U.S. and Chinese firms, further highlighting the widening divide in the digital world.
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