China Mobile Exits Trans-Pacific Fibre Cable Project

Published · Aug 23, 2021

Facebook contractor Edge Cable Holdings USA and Amazon Data Services Inc. applied to operate a submarine cable linking California to the Philippines. This follows the withdrawal of China Mobile from the project.

Expected to go live in 2022, the cable, called CAP-1, will use six fibre pairs and carry a projected maximum of 108TBs of data per second. The initial paperwork listed China Mobile as an operator alongside Amazon and Edge.

However, the US is hesitant to see involvement from China in projects that will manage the data of US entities and citizens. This hesitancy was formalized in the Clean Networks plan created during the Trump administration.

A subelement of the plan, called “Clean Cables,” expressly states that the US wants to ensure that "the undersea cables connecting our country to the global internet are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) at hyper scale."

China Mobile is mentioned by name along with other Chinese businesses, such as Alibaba and Baidu, in another subelement—“Clean Clouds.” The goals are the same as in the “Cables” section, but with a focus on cloud tech like storage and backup.

Line Drawing

The exact reason for China Mobile’s withdrawal and the circumstances around it are unclear. As The Register points out, however, CAP-1 requires US approval to fulfill its intended function.

Were China Mobile involved, the whole exercise would prove to be fruitless. As such, there’s nothing for the Chinese company to gain from attempting to stay involved.

When all legal particulars are worked out, Amazon will own roughly 17% of the cable, while Facebook will have the majority with 83%. A setup that will sit well with the US government in its uneasy allegiance with US-based tech giants.

Tech companies of all stripes, like cloud hosting providers and even ones with electronics manufacturing, such as Apple, are drawn into the cold conflict between Washington and Beijing.

Both the Chinese and American governments are attempting to reign in big tech. At the same time, they are working out how big companies can be useful as tech rollout booms around the world.

Both sides are being careful to bring companies in their respective zones of influence under control—while shutting out those of the opposition. China Mobile’s withdrawal, coupled with Facebook and Amazon’s promised control of the cable, is just another illustration of this.

Branko Krstic
Branko Krstic

Branko is a round-the-clock tech geek and loving it. His ideal vacation destination is the Akihabara District (or really any place he can take his computer). If there’s a server out there, count on him to find out what it’s made of… and tell you all about it.