A British newspaper on Tuesday (March 14) cited several sources as saying China is obstructing the laying and maintenance of submarine internet cables in the South China Sea by delaying approvals and other means, delaying a cable connecting Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan for more than a year.
According to Financial Times, China is attempting to interfere with and control the transnational telecommunications infrastructure in the South China Sea. The scope of Beijing’s attempts to control undersea networks covers nearly the entire South China Sea.
The report pointed out China has been delaying the review process, tightening conditions for obtaining various permits, and even extending the scope of its control beyond China’s internationally recognized territorial waters. Industry insiders say this forces companies to avoid the South China Sea, which incurs additional costs.
Two corporate managers told the newspaper that a cable under construction, the Southeast Asia-Japan Cable 2 (SJC2), has been delayed for more than a year because of Chinese opposition and lags in obtaining permits for seabed exploration. When completed, SJC2 will connect Japan with South Korea, China, Taiwan (Fangshan Township and Tamsui District), Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand.
According to the report, SJC2 is owned by a consortium whose members include China Mobile, Chunghwa Telecom, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook. For months, China has held off on approving seabed exploration in Chinese territorial waters around Hong Kong, citing concerns including possible espionage by contractors, said a person directly involved in the project, who asked not to be named.
Bryan Clark, a former U.S. Navy official and a senior fellow at Washington-based Hudson Institute, said one of the reasons China is trying to tighten control of underwater activities in the area is to prevent American surveillance systems from being included in the subsea cable installation. He added that Beijing also “wants to know exactly where civilian undersea infrastructure is installed for its own mapping purposes.”
The report said various disputes surrounding submarine cables have escalated rapidly since 2020, when the U.S. began to prevent China from participating in international consortium projects. The U.S. has also rejected plans to lay cables connecting the U.S. with China and Hong Kong.
The article noted that according to international law, if the scope of a subsea project falls within the territorial waters of a country’s coast, the country or company that lays and maintains the cable must obtain permission from the coastal state. Although the construction in the “exclusive economic zone” EEZ extending 12 to 200 miles from the territory of the coastal state usually does not require a permit, China has recently begun demanding companies apply for permits in its EEZ, apparently contravening international maritime law.
A person familiar with the matter told CNA on Tuesday that the SJC2 submarine cable invested in by Chunghwa Telecom has been delayed for more than a year and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The source said in the future, new undersea cables will circumvent the South China Sea.
There is speculation that Chunghwa Telecom’s two Taiwan-Matsu submarine cables were deliberately cut in early February by the Chinese ships, with industry insiders pointing to two factors that raise suspicions. The two submarine cables between Taiwan and Matsu were cut within just six days of each other and the damage occurred close to Matsu. Taiwan News