Australia concerned about Chinese firm’s involvement in undersea cable project

Sogavare and TurnbullAustralia has expressed concern about a plan by a Chinese telecommunications company to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources. The company, Huawei Technologies, a private Chinese venture, is one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China.

One of Huawei’s most recent large-scale projects involves the Solomon Islands, a former British overseas territory that became independent in 1978 and is today a sovereign nation. The Pacific country consist of a complex of nearly 1,000 islands of different sizes, scattered over a distance of 11,000 square miles. It lies northeast of Australia and directly east of Papua New Guinea. In 2014, the government of the Solomon Islands began an ambitious project to connect its Internet servers to those of Australia via a 2,700-mile undersea fiber optic cable. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide Solomon Islands inhabitants with reliable high-speed Internet. The project was approved by Canberra (Australian government) and Sydney (Australian private sector) and given the green light by the Asian Development Bank, which promised to fund it. But in 2016 the Solomon Islands government suddenly named Huawei Marine as the project’s main contractor. Huawei Marine, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies, is a joint venture between the Chinese firm and Global Marine Systems, a British-headquartered company that installs undersea telecommunications cables.

The news was greeted with concern in Canberra. The Australian intelligence community has previously warned that Huawei operates as an arm of the Chinese spy services. Intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States have issued similar warnings. In 2011, a report by a research unit of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Huawei Technologies relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security. But a subsequent 18-month review commissioned by the White House found no evidence that Huawei spied for the Chinese government.

Canberra is concerned that, by constructing the Solomon Islands undersea cable, Huawei would be “plugging into Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure backbone”, something that, according to some intelligence officials, “presents a fundamental security issue”. To further-complicate things, opposition officials in the Solomon Islands allege that the country’s government contracted the services of Huawei after the Chinese company promised to make a multi-million dollar donation to the ruling political party. Last June, the director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Nick Warner, visited the Solomon Islands and tried to convince the country’s Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to drop Huawei from the project. The topic was also discussed in a meeting between Mr. Sogavare and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in Canberra last week. Following the meeting, the Solomon Islands leader said that his government would “continue to have discussions with the Australian government to see how we can solve that […] security issue”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 August 2017 | Permalink

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Russian subs looking for undersea Internet cables, say US officials

Undersea cableAn increased presence of Russian submarines near American territorial waters appears to correspond to the location of undersea Internet cables used for commercial and military communications, according to officials. Citing “more than half a dozen” American and European officials, including naval commanders and intelligence professionals, The New York Times said on Sunday that the United States Department of Defense was paying close attention to what it described as “significantly increased Russian activity” along known routes of the cables. The paper was referring to Russian underwater vessels, which Washington believes are equipped with technology designed to tap into the cables, or even to sabotage them, by severing them.

According to The Times, officials at the Pentagon believe that Moscow is less interested in tapping into the cables and more interested in mapping their location so that it can attack them during a hypothetical clash with the US. Superficially, the paper said that, according to US officials, the Russian Navy appeared to be seeking to locate the precise coordinates of the fiber-optic cables. The ultimate goal was to sever them “at some of their hardest-to-access locations” if Russia ever needed to disrupt the flow of communication to and from the US. The Russian submarines seem to be seeking some of the deeper locations of the undersea cable networks, which would make it harder for repair crews to locate and repair severed fiber-optic cables.

The New York Times said that, alongside commercial Internet cable networks, Russian submarines were looking for military networks, whose location is usually classified. The paper quoted a European diplomat, who said anonymously that Russian submarine patrols in American territorial waters had increased by nearly 50% since 2014. The level of activity of Russian submarines was now “comparable to what we saw in the Cold War”, said the diplomat.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 October 2015 | Permalink