The rivalry between the United States and China for digital dominance has led the private company to change its technology investment plans. Facebook and Google announced the cancellation of the construction of fiber optic cables between Hong Kong and California while Chinese companies were suspended from bidding for a cable in the Indo-Pacific.
America and its allies in the Pacific are seeking to build a network around national security and to allow the free exchange of information. Therefore, they seek to restrict companies related to the Chinese Communist Party from participating in tenders.
Facebook and Google bet on the Indo-Pacific
However, pressure from the Trump administration and Beijing’s subjugation to Hong Kong caused Facebook and Google, which joined the bet, to abandon the project, benefiting Singapore and Indonesia. Broadband demand growth in Asia has seen growth since 2015 and Hong Kong is a major consumer.
In late March, Facebook made the announcement of the two projects to connect Singapore, Indonesia and the United States, “Echo and Bifrost will not only be the first trans-Pacific cables across a diverse new route across the Java Sea, but will also increase overall trans-Pacific capacity by 70 percent.”
According to Facebook the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it new cybernauts, in addition to new technological developments hand in hand with the 5G network. The design of the two projects must go through the approval of Biden and American allies, as it compromises the Western Pacific in the Guam region, a sensitive area for national security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Undersea cables carry most international data from video and phone call transmissions, banking transactions and stock exchanges. Some Pacific countries still do not have the network, a situation that Beijing is taking advantage of to exert diplomatic pressure in exchange for its construction.
Disputes in the Pacific over cable construction
Nauru and Kiribati countries in the Western Pacific do not have submarine cables to provide fiber optics. In anticipation of the companies’ plans, Kiribati broke off relations with Taiwan and embraced Beijing, a situation that increased fears of Chinese influence in the region.
However, the consortium bidding for the cable decided, for security reasons, to cancel the proposals of all bidders including the Chinese companies, leaving Micronesia, Nauru and Kiribati so far without a real plan to build a submarine cable.
On the other hand, with the Belt and Road Plan, China seeks to connect Pakistan and East Africa to Europe via two cables, of which one was inaugurated in 2019 and the other will be ready to land by the end of 2021.
The cable is known as Peace and is “from China to Pakistan, where it heads underwater and snakes along some 7,500 miles of ocean floor through the Horn of Africa before terminating in France.”
Facebook and Google’s decision gives the United States an advantage in Asia. On the one hand it allows it to maintain control over the flow of information in the Pacific and on the other it sends a signal about its political capacity in the countries neighboring China.
The United States increased its presence in Asia since the end of 2019, strengthening ties with allies such as India, Japan and Australia, countries that express concern about Chinese expansion.