US-China Tensions Disrupt Global Communication Network; Report Says Subsea Cable Projects Evade Beijing

In response to escalating tensions between the United States and China, the global landscape of undersea cable deployments is witnessing a key shift. Many international subsea cable projects are circumventing China, with concerns over data security and geopolitical influence looming large.

Once envisioned as a future hub for subsea networks, China now faces a marked decline in the number of undersea cables linking it with the rest of the world.

Subsea cables form the backbone of the internet, telecommunication, and international data transmission. These cables stretch across vast ocean expanses, connecting continents and countries in a complex web of connectivity. Despite their slender appearance, they are the conduits through which the world communicates, conducts business and shares knowledge.

The importance of subsea cables extends far beyond their technical capabilities. They are essential drivers of economic growth, enabling international trade, commerce, and financial transactions on a scale never before possible. Moreover, subsea cables play a crucial role in bridging the digital divide by providing access to information and resources in remote regions and developing countries.

The AsiaNikkei report claimed that China will have only three cables laid down after this year, less than half the planned number for Singapore. It is a trend that signals potential disruptions to international communication networks.

The backdrop to this shift lies in the deepening rivalry between the United States and China, two economic superpowers vying for global dominance.

Tensions between the two powers have escalated in recent years, prompting heightened scrutiny of data security and infrastructure projects, particularly those involving undersea cables, which serve as the backbone of the Internet. These cables carry an overwhelming majority of global data traffic.

Subsea cables are integral to global data traffic, carrying an estimated 99% of the world’s data. Approximately 140,000 kilometers of subsea cables have been laid this year – a sure sign of the growing significance of digital connectivity.

Major players in the tech industry, including Google, are leading efforts to bypass Chinese influence in undersea cable deployments.

Initiatives such as the Clean Network initiative, spearheaded by the US under the previous Trump administration, excluded Chinese businesses from critical telecom infrastructure projects.

Major tech companies faced pressure from US authorities to revise their undersea cable plans, resulting in the exclusion of China from certain projects.

The report pointed out that the World Bank-led subsea cable project for the South Pacific island nations also aligned with US policy objectives, further marginalizing Chinese involvement in global connectivity initiatives.

As a result, China’s presence in international subsea cable networks is diminishing rapidly, with no new undersea projects scheduled beyond 2025.

Meanwhile, demand for data traffic between the US and Asia remains strong, driving plans for additional cable installations to key destinations such as Japan, Singapore, and Guam.

File Image: Undersea Cables
File Image: Undersea Cables

US-China Tensions In Indo-Pacific

Against the backdrop of growing efforts by the US to decouple from China, military confrontations and territorial disputes in the Indo-Pacific region have heightened geopolitical concerns.

The United States and China find themselves at loggerheads again, with recent naval maneuvers in the South China Sea exacerbating tensions between the two global powers.

The latest incident unfolded as China issued warnings to the USS Halsey, a US Navy Destroyer, after it crossed the Taiwan Strait, a move that irked Chinese authorities.

On May 10, the Chinese Navy drove away the US destroyer after it reportedly entered what Beijing claimed as its territorial waters near the Parcel Islands in the disputed South China Sea.

China condemned the US for infringing upon its sovereignty. Chinese forces were on high alert, signaling a readiness to counter US presence in the fiercely contested waters.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Milius conducts a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Friday. MC1 Greg Johnson/US Navy

In defense of its actions, the US Navy cited the right of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, a principle upheld by international law. The operation also challenged China’s claim of a strait baseline over the Paracels. The destroyer also disputed Beijing’s assertion that warships sailing through the island chain require prior notification.

The dispute underscores broader tensions surrounding China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, which overlap with territories claimed by neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines.

Despite international law declaring China’s claims lacking legal basis, Beijing maintains a major presence in the region. It has deployed Coast Guard and naval vessels to assert its dominance.

Tensions between China and the US escalated further with Washington’s pledge to support the Philippines in its conflict with Beijing over South China Sea issues.

Additionally, China’s insistence on its sovereignty over Taiwan has fueled apprehension, with Beijing indicating a willingness to use force to bring the island under its control.

Recent sightings of Chinese ships and aircraft near Taiwan’s territory have further fueled concerns over military escalation in the region. Nonetheless, the South China Sea remains a flashpoint for geopolitical tension, with the US-China rivalry showing no signs of abating.