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Asia

Subsea cables following Huawei's fate

The Pacific cable business seems fated to go down the same dizzy path as Huawei.

This week the FCC has again made plain its distaste for the Pacific Light and Cable Network (PLCN), the $400 million Facebook- and Google-backed trans-Pacific cable system.

It has been cleared to connect between the Philippines and the west coast – but the last segment to Hong Kong is not going to get approved.

The FCC asserts that the Hong Kong landing station "would expose US communications traffic to collection" by China authorities.

Never mind that half a dozen cables have directly connected the US to China mainland or Hong Kong over the past two decades without incident.

As in the long campaign against Huawei, evidence of an actual security breach is elusive, though it's only a matter of time before some helpful politician emerges to claim proof exists but can't be shared.

It's hard to follow the logic here. Banning direct cable links to China mainland or Hong Kong just means traffic will go through a third country. The US data that is supposedly vulnerable to Chinese eavesdropping will still go through Hong Kong or some other China landing point.

We can only imagine this is part of a grand decoupling strategy to make it harder to do business with China. That worked on the former Soviet Union, but it's hard to see how it is going to work on the world's second-largest economy.

It also seems to be a case of projection from the US.

As the Snowden leaks revealed, the US is addicted to the data it sucks up from its global surveillance network – so much so that it has excised Huawei from the country and is genuinely intent on doing so globally. It seems inconceivable for people in Washington to imagine that a government with the ability to tap into a fiber cable wouldn't do so.

Despite all this, Facebook and partners are pushing ahead with another big trans-Pacific cable, Hong Kong Americas (HKA).

The Hong Kong government has just approved China Telecom's application for it. Announced in 2018, China Unicom, Tata and Telstra are also backing the cable, which will land in Los Angeles.

Presumably that cable will end up jumping through the same hoops.

Back in east Asia, the regional bandwidth market is flourishing. The choking off of direct US-China links is only going to stimulate more intra-Asia capacity. So it's a win for some.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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