China to build $500m subsea cable project to rival US

subsea cable project US China

State-owned Chinese telecom firms are reportedly working on the development of a $500 million subsea cable network project to rival a similar US-backed system.

According to Reuters, the project would link Asia, the Middle East, and Europe together, much like the US-backed Sea-Me-We-6 cable, as tensions between the US and China grow.

Citing four sources, Reuters revealed that China’s three main telecom operators, China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom are working together to map out ‘one of the world’s most advanced and far-reaching subsea cable networks.’

This potential project comes shortly after China Telecom and China Mobile withdrew their involvement in the South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 6 (Sea-Me-We 6) submarine cable project.

The reported reason for China’s withdrawal from the Sea-Me-We 6 cable was due to US company SubCom being awarded a contract to build the cable, rather than Hengtong Marine, China’s biggest provider in the sector. Hengtong acquired a majority stake in Huawei Marine Networks in 2019, after US sanctions forced a sale.

It was a blow for the project, which isn’t due to go live until 2025, with the two operators combining to invest 20 percent into the cable, with the overall cable set to cost $500 million.

But now it appears the Chinese are putting their money elsewhere to rival the cable with its own called EMA (Europe-Middle East-Asia).

This proposed cable will reportedly link Hong Kong to China’s island province of Hainan, before linking Singapore, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and France.

Significantly, this cable would be manufactured by China’s HMN Technologies, which was previously majority-owned by Huawei before Hengtong acquired its majority stake.

The Chinese state would provide subsidies to Hengtong for the build-out of the cable, said the sources, while the cable is expected to be online by the end of 2025, roughly in line with the Sea-Me-We 6 project.

None of the operators, nor Hengtong, have commented publicly on the reports so far.

Last month, China was reported to be blocking projects to lay and maintain subsea Internet cables through the South China Sea, with the Financial Times reporting at the time that Beijing is keen to command more control over the infrastructure transmitting the world’s data.

It’s a stance that has likely been fueled by tensions with the US, with the country operating a tougher stance on the permit to operate outside its internationally recognized international waters has reportedly delayed the SJC2 cable.

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