China accused of planning to exploit undersea cable networks to spy on other countries, report says

China accused of planning to exploit undersea cable networks to spy on other countries, report says
An undersea fiber optic cable is attached to a rope at Arrietara beach near the Spanish Basque village of Sopelana on June 13, 2017.Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty Images
  • China is being accused of supporting private investment in Pacific underwater cable projects to spy on other nations, Newsweek reported.
  • A Reuters investigation found that US government officials had warned Pacific island nations against awarding underwater cable contracts to Chinese state-linked firms.
  • These contracts are related to the Kiribati Connectivity Project (KCP), which was designed to improve communications to the island nations of Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Kiribati.
  • In response to the accusation, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry told Reuters that the United States was attempting to smear Chinese companies.

China is supporting private investment in underwater cable projects in the Pacific to spy on other nations and steal data from them, according to reports.

Newsweek reported a spokesperson for Taiwan's Foreign Ministry who claimed on Friday that China was planning to "monopolize" communication networks in the Pacific to steal valuable data from its rivals.

The report comes a day after a Reuters investigation found that US government officials had warned Pacific island nations against awarding underwater cable contracts to Chinese state-linked firms.
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These contracts are related to the Kiribati Connectivity Project (KCP), which was designed in 2017 to improve communications to the island nations of Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and Kiribati.

Bidders included Japan's NEC, Finland's Nokia, French-headquartered Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), and Huawei Marine, which was recently divested from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and is now majority-owned by another Chinese firm.

According to the Reuters report, Washington officials claim the Chinese-government backed companies are undercutting their international competitors to gain access to cable contracts in the region to expand their influence.
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As part of the project, the cables will connect to a network called HNATRU-1, which serves Guam - a US Pacific territory strategically located close to China, North Korea, and the rest of East Asia. It is the headquarters of the 7th Fleet's Navy Expeditionary Forces Command Pacific.

The $72.6 million project is backed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. In response to the accusation, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry told Reuters that the United States was attempting to smear Chinese companies.
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The reports come several months after Google and Facebook withdrew their plans to connect LA and Hong Kong with an 8,000-mile internet broadband cable to boost internet speed and capacity.

The decision was made after a US Department of Justice committee formally recommended that the Hong Kong part of the network be axed on national security grounds in July.

It was the first time such a cable was rejected on national security grounds and was a sign of the growing tension between the US and China.
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Entire countries could be taken offline

There are more than 350 undersea cables around the world, which span a length of over 1.2 million kilometers (745,645 miles) and carry telecommunication signals.

Most lines are owned by private telecommunications companies, including tech giants like Google and Microsoft. Their locations, built up over the decades, can be easily identified on public maps.

Despite their importance, little is being done to guard and protect these deep-sea cables.
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Cybersecurity experts previously told Insider in 2018 that it's only "a matter of time" before hackers could access the cables and threaten to take entire countries offline.
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