Trans-Pacific cable plans mired in geopolitics

Trans-Pacific cable plans mired in geopolitics

Summary: Rivalry between the US and China for dominance in the Pacific will determine the structure of any new trans-Pacific cable linking Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and the United States.

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After several years of frustrated effort, a new trans-Pacific telecommunications cable now seems increasingly likely.

While its exact route remains unclear, it is expected to link the US with Australia and New Zealand and probably include some Pacific Islands along the way, with American Samoa a likely beneficiary.

But if comments and rumours in New Zealand are anything to go by, the new cable has become a further nexus for the growing rivalry between the US and China in the Pacific.

Last month it was reported the US military could even help pay for any planned new cable to link its bases in American Samoa with a much increased military presence, widely seen as a counter to China's growing regional ambitions, in Australia's Northern Territory.

The most visible current cable plan since a private effort by New Zealand-based Pacific Fibre failed last year, is that of another New Zealand-based company called Hawaiki Cable. It describes its cable as a repeatered submarine cable system with a design capacity of 20 Tbps linking Whangarei, in Northern New Zealand, with Sydney, Hawaii and the US West coast.

Hawaiki has already announced support from Australian internet service provider TPG, New Zealand ISP Orcon and regional development agency Northland Inc

It is in that context that the New Zealand government last week announced a $15 million commitment to anchor a new cable project by way of an open tender for Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd, a company set up to operate New Zealand's universities research network.

Pacific Fibre received a similar commitment, but comments by one of that company's founders after its plans failed last year indicate there could be much more in play than is apparent.

Pacific fibre co-founder and technology entrepreneur Rod Drury told business news website interest.co.nz the project was scuppered by concerns about Chinese investment and the potential for espionage.

Drury said US authorities made it "very clear" they would not allow significant Chinese investment in Pacific Fibre's cable. It followed that they would not tolerate the use of Chinese gear in its construction.

Drury said the project collapsed because Pacific Fibre had been trapped by "real political issues" between the US and China.

“It was made very clear. These are cables connecting whole countries. These are very political things," Drury told interest.co.nz.

Chinese networking giant Huawei has successfully created a beachhead for the use of its equipment in New Zealand's broadband networks, something it is struggling to achieve in the US and Australia. Its local sales have grown seven fold in the last three years.

Last week it announced it would sponsor an A-League football team based in New Zealand's capital, Wellington Phoenix. Such gestures have meaning in China.

But New Zealand is also one of the Five Eyes grouping of English speaking countries at the centre of the Edward Snowden spying revelations. At least two US spy bases are located in New Zealand.

While the US and Australian authories' concerns about the security of Huawei's gear has been well reported, if what Drury said and rumours about Defense Department investment are correct, the US is creating a technology ring-fence to ensure Chinese money and Chinese gear does not proliferate into the core networks spanning the Pacific.

Topics: Networking, Government US, Security, New Zealand, Australia

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10 comments
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  • NJYTOUCH

    New Zealand covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet
    a418887065
    • What?

      I understand that touch screens are in, but I don't understand the comment.
      Bill4
  • What's worse?

    So the choice is either:

    1. A multinational cable with some Huawai equipment in it

    OR

    2. A cable that was largely paid for by the US military (and guess who gets access to that!)
    Vbitrate
  • Hmmm

    So the US does not want Chinese companies or investment in this line, for fear of espionage... Really they are afraid of the competition on spying on everyone.
    schultzycom
  • kandy

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    kandylandy17
  • I'm not understanding the issue Drury says exists.

    So a cable between US and NZ doesn't have any Chinese control over it. So what? Who cares, other than the Chinese Ministry of State Security?

    China is free to build their own cable to the U.S. West coast and to NZ. I'm pretty sure no one would use it, if data hopping from one cable to the other is filtered at the nexus for anything to do with Falun Gong, Tibet, or criticisms of human rights abuses in China, but, hey, they should feel free to build the thing.

    So I'm really not understanding how China being pissed here has anything whatsoever to do with a cable actually getting built between endpoints which don't include China, or why Drury claimed that as a reason for not completing the project.
    tlambert2
  • Another perspective

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-brics-independent-internet-in-defiance-of-the-us-centric-internet/5350272
    Astringent
    • Interesting link.

      I'm glad to see the brics are laying some cable independently. It does further show the NSA the law of unintended consequences.

      However, this does not address question as to why the Chinese would be peeved at not participating in a cable that doesn't connect to them.
      Bill4
    • Also....

      Are the US, UK, Canada, Australia or NZ participating in building the bric cable. If not, should they be hacked off?
      Bill4
      • Why China pissed off?

        The article doesn't ascribe any feelings to China, but I'd imagine they resent being denied an investment opportunity and the opportunity to make kit sales into the network build. Especially as they are being closed out of so many other projects.

        China has significant economic interests in the Pacific Islands and has been courting those governments for years. It recently signed an access deal to Cook Islands fisheries for instance, so that might be a factor given the cable's planned route.

        From an NZ perspective, I'm not sure if we really care who funds the cable or what gear is used - we just want it built to create competition with the only other cable, Southern Cross.

        If US objections to Chinese involvement have scuttled a project that would have achieved that goal, then it's NZ that should feel pissed off - not that that matters on a geopolitical scale.
        robonz