The Trump administration spent the last several years bashing China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and called it a 'debt trap', and urged countries worldwide to resist allowing China to build infrastructure projects in their respected countries. With the Biden administration now in power, there has yet to be a visible protest from the White House of Beijing's new plan to construct a 7,500-mile submarine communications cable from Pakistan to Africa to Europe.
The high-speed, 7,500-mile Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) subsea communication cable system will offer high-capacity, low-latency routes connecting China, Europe, and Africa. In addition to France, the cable will land in Malta, Cyprus, Egypt, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, and other countries with ultimate connectivity to China.
Some of the countries listed above are part of the BRI. China's motive behind the new undersea project is to provide high-speed internet connectivity to Chinese companies doing business in Europe and Africa.
"This is a plan to project power beyond China toward Europe and Africa," Jean-Luc Vuillemin, the head of international networks at Orange SA, the French telecommunications that will operate the PEACE cable landing station in Marseille, France, told Bloomberg.
More interesting, Huawei Technologies Co. is the third-largest investor in Hengtong Optic-Electric Co., the company building the PEACE pipe. Huawei is expected to provide critical telecommunications equipment for the project - some of Huawei telecommunications equipment has been cited as a national security risk by the US.
Despite the Trump administration's hard stance against the BRI and Huawei and other Chinese companies - the Biden administration has yet to visibly criticize China's new ambitions to construct a global undersea cable network. Much of the internet around the world is transmitted in 400 undersea cables stretching worldwide, controlled mostly by US companies. Chinese encroachment on the US' dominance would likely usher in a response from the White House.
Bloomberg sources said the French government is prepared to take flak from US officials over the PEACE cable.
"It could look to mollify the US by keeping certain types of traffic off the cable," another source said.
French President Emmanuel Macron told the Atlantic Council in February that France doesn't want to isolate itself from China. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also had similar remarks last month.
Some European leaders objected to requests by the past administration to "decouple" from China despite security risks. According to security experts, risks are brewing that China could create backdoors into the PEACE pipe to siphon data.
"Any time that you have your data traveling over their switches, their cables—these are the source of redirecting traffic and eavesdropping," said Robert Spalding, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute policy group in Washington. "It's just common sense."
China's attempt to control the world's internet could be realized in the next couple of decades. The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Netherlands-based Leiden Asia Center estimates China could be the owner of at least 20% of undersea communication cables worldwide by the end of the decade.
The great power competition between the world's two largest economies is now spilling into the internet's physical layers.