The internet cable war is declared between the United States and China


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How a contract to lay submarine cables between Asia and Europe was the subject of a bitter battle between China and the United States.

The battle of the SeaMeWe-6 “, a story that mixes business, especially critical technology, and rivalry between China and the United States, illustrates the extent of competition between the two countries in the submarine cable sector as well. In a March 24 river article, the Reuters agency tells how a huge contract to install underwater pipelines between Singapore and France, initially won by a Chinese company, was eventually won by a US company. With pressure and incentives “, the Americans would have managed to tip the scales in their favour.

The story that the news agency has been able to piece together on the basis of the testimonies of six people directly involved in this contract will start at the beginning of 2020. A tender is being launched by a consortium of telecom companies – including Microsoft and Orange – to build a nearly 20,000-kilometer long cable that will transfer data at ultra-high speeds from Asia to Europe, across Africa and the Middle East. Amount of the contract, which is called “Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 6”, or “SeaMeWe-6” for short: 600 million dollars.

Submarine cables, gold mines for the secret services

Soon a Chinese company positioned itself: HMN Technologies Co Ltd – this company was until recently owned by Huawei. HMN Tech is competing with another US company, SubCom, to win the contract. Within the consortium of telecommunications companies, two clans face each other. One, made up of three Chinese companies, backs the bid from HMN Tech, which is offering to manufacture and build the cable for $500 million. The others, including Microsoft, Orange, expressed concern about the United States’ response. But all of them support HMN Tech’s offer, which is 30% cheaper than its competitor, thanks in particular to hefty subsidies from Beijing. A verbal agreement will be made in the summer of 2020 to accept HMN Tech’s offer.

This is not to the liking of the US government, which is concerned that a Chinese company is in charge of these cables – as they could be used for large-scale espionage. These submarine channels, which carry almost 95% of internet traffic, carry our e-mails, our bank transactions, but also information labeled defense secret. They are real monitoring gold mines for intelligence agencies around the world, explained Justin Sherman, a member of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, quoted by Reuters.

When we talk about technological competition between the United States and China, when we talk about espionage and data capturing, submarine cables are involved in all aspects of these growing geopolitical tensions. “, detailed this expert.

Read also: How the Fall of an Intelligence Agent Exposes the Extent of China’s Industrial Espionage
Scholarships, threats of US sanctions,…

And the means on the table to change the game and allow SubCom to win show just how much the technological war between the two countries is raging. To begin with, Washington draws up a battle plan. The goal: to defend American interests. A working group, known as the Team Telecommunications » and composed of members of various US agencies, is founded. Step One: The United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) provides ” training grants of $3.8 million to five telecommunications companies. In return, they must defend SubCom’s choice – information confirmed by the USTDA to our colleagues.

Then the threat of heavy US sanctions against HMN Tech is waved. Telecom operators involved in the project are being warned that their investment in HMN Tech could be jeopardized due to US sanctions that could soon expire. In other words, US officials allegedly explained that if they chose HMN Tech, they would go out of business because the cable could not be used.

Finally, the diplomatic machine would also have been deployed. Calls would have been made via embassies to warn the countries concerned about ” security risks asked by HMN Tech, according to a senior US State Department official. This information has not been confirmed by the US Department of Commerce. Specifically, the Americans would have explained that HMN Tech could put monitoring equipment in the cable.

Other ongoing internet cable battles

These various measures have cast doubt, especially among those who already had reservations about HMN Tech. In February 2021, the two companies would then have been invited to submit their best and final offer. The two companies are said to have lowered their price: SubCom now offers USD 600 million, compared to USD 475 million for HMN Tech. At the time, Orange, Microsoft and Singapore Telecommunications Limited (Singtel) believed that the US company made the best offer, particularly because of the risk of sanctions.

Result: In February 2022, SubCom officially announced that it had won the SeaMeWe-6 cable contract. Contacted by our colleagues, neither SubCom nor HMN Tech nor the telecom companies involved would comment. And this contract would be just one part of many other operations going on behind the scenes, Reuters reports. Among them, “Team Telecom” would also be working to derail any cable project that directly connects US territory to mainland China or Hong Kong. And all these elements would be just the tip of the iceberg of the massive technological war in which the two countries are engaged.

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