US opposes undersea cable link to Hong Kong on security concerns

WASHINGTON • The US Justice Department is opposing a bid by Google, Facebook and a Chinese entity to complete an undersea Internet cable between the US and Hong Kong, raising national security concerns over the project that runs out of temporary authority next month.

The high-capacity fibre optic cable running for about 13,000km is intended to connect US Internet users to Asia and increase competition on the trans-Pacific data route, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), where the companies in 2017 applied for permission to land the cable in the US.

The project remains pending as tensions simmer between the US and China, with an ongoing trade dispute featuring tariffs on billions of dollars in goods and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The Justice and Defence departments in 2017 asked the FCC to defer action on the project until a national security review could be completed, according to two people familiar with the project who spoke on condition of anonymity. That review continues with no specific date for conclusion.

The FCC usually follows recommendations that emerge from the inter-agency review process, but is not bound to do so. The FCC declined to comment.

The Justice Department has signalled opposition because of concerns over its Chinese investor, Beijing-based Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people involved in the discussions.

Dr Peng provides communications services in China. Partners listed on its website include Huawei Technologies, a telecommunications gear maker accused by the US authorities of being a potential security risk. Huawei has denied such allegations.

Google filed for permission to bring the cable to the US in April 2017, and has since twice won special temporary authority for construction and testing from the FCC. That expires on Sept 30.

Separately, Huawei on Wednesday said it was "very actively" interested in building the first undersea fibre optic cable between South America and Asia.

The company told Reuters it was eagerly following the public tender process initiated by Chile last month and would participate when bids were invited for the trans-Pacific construction.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2019, with the headline 'US opposes undersea cable link to Hong Kong on security concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe