It is the latest victim of the economic and political conflict between Washington and Beijing: the construction of a submarine Internet cable that for the first time connects directly to the United States to Hong Kong cannot be completed due to the involvement of Dr. Peng, a Chinese telecommunications operator that would threaten US national security.
Google, Facebook and Dr. Peng are on a boat. But US President Donald Trump and his trade dispute with China have been there, and the project for the two US giants and the Chinese telecom operator is catching water. The US administration on Wednesday, June 17, asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the telecom gendarme) to stop the construction of the first submarine Internet cable connecting the United States directly to Hong Kong, for reasons of “national security”.
More precisely, “Team Telecom” – the US President’s Advisory Committee on Telecommunications Questions – wants this mega project under construction for four years to connect Los Angeles to Taiwan and the Philippines but questioned that the smallest terabytes of Internet will flow directly to Hong Kong thanks to a cable partially “manufactured in the United States”.
A cable of 13 000 km
This committee fears that the Chinese authorities will have access to the data that would pass through this cable. The political and social crisis that shakes the semi-autonomous territory would show Beijing’s willingness to step into this city to exercise all its authority there. The US data landing at the Hong Kong beaches would no longer be “protected from the Chinese government’s continuous efforts to obtain personal information on millions of Americans,” the press release from “Team Telecom” notes.
It was a blow to Google and Facebook that saw this cable, called the Pacific Light Cable Network, as an important part of their strategy to conquer Asia. This underwater site of nearly 13,000 km, launched in 2016, aims to complete the network of three other immersed internet cables connecting, more or less directly, from the US west coast to mainland China. About 8,000 km of cables have already been laid for the construction of this project.
In addition to the fact that it would have been the first to offer a direct connection to Hong Kong, this new tube filled with optical fibers would have greatly increased the bandwidth available to Google and Facebook to offer its services to the Asian continent. Pacific Light Cable Network must allow up to 120 terabytes of data to be transported at the same time, which would allow “80 million HD video conferencing in parallel between Los Angeles and Hong Kong,” Google is enthusiastic. in a press release in 2016 with details for this project.
Dr. Peng, the Trojan horse in Beijing?
But this project, the cost of which is estimated at about $ 300 million according to Wall Street Journal, ended up in the highchairs of the Trump administration when Chinese and American relations deteriorated. In Washington, hawkers of Chinese politics began to look into it in 2017, when the Chinese group Dr. Peng burst into the site’s organizational chart. That year, this telecommunications giant, unknown in the west, bought the Hong Kong company Pacific Light Data Communication, which is the foremost Asian partner for the project.
This change of ownership did fear the Chinese regime should not use Dr. Peng as a Trojan horse to obtain valuable data passing through the giant submarine cable. In October 2019, the US Department of Justice officially expressed doubts that it is appropriate to continue this project because of Dr. Peng’s commitment.
In appearance, however, this telecom operator is not a new Huawei, this computer juggernaut that scares Washington so much because of its assumed links with the Chinese army. Dr. Peng is a private conglomerate who has been involved in the Pacific Light Cable Network project to no longer be as heavily dependent on Internet subscription revenue. In fact, in this sector it suffers from competition from public behemoths China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicorn, details an article the Chinese financial newspaper Caixin Global.
Dr. Peng and Mister Huawei?
But as is often the case in China, it is possible to find links with the state by dipping a little. US authorities may have been worried about the close relationship between Dr. Peng and Huawei. The telecom operator has actually described itself as a “privileged partner” since 2016 by the Chinese giant hated by the US administration. The two groups work together in the field of artificial intelligence and the development of 5G telephone networks.
Yang Xueping, CEO of Dr. Peng, is no stranger to the mysteries of power. Before taking the telecom operator’s vacations, he spent part of his career in the administration of the very rich region of Shenzen. But his biography on the site by Dr. Peng simply indicates that he was “employed” there, leaving doubt as to his exact nature.
More seriously, perhaps, in Washington’s eyes: the group has previously proven that it was ready to put its technical know-how in favor of the Chinese government’s most controversial projects. Thus, Dr. Peng a Beijing video surveillance network, the Wall Street Journal recalls.
All of these are not undeniable evidence that Dr. Peng will turn Pacific Light Cable into a weapon of massive cyber espionage if the cable reaches Hong Kong. But the mismanagement of this gigantic project illustrates the importance of Donald Trump maintaining economic and political pressure on China. He is ready to take action on the basis of indirect evidence of cooperation between the Chinese regime and a private group, though the sanction risks financially damaging Google and Facebook, two of the most important US groups.