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US-China tensions force cancellation of Facebook-led undersea link

(ATF) A project led by Facebook to build a submarine data cable between the US and Hong Kong has been cancelled, underscoring the effects of deep distrust between Washington and Beijing.

US national security officials had long pressed for the project’s cancellation or rerouting, and Facebook filed notice with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on March 10 that it would withdraw its application for the Hong Kong-Americas (HKA) undersea data link.

The social media giant left open the possibility it would submit a new application for a “reconfigured” system.

The Facebook-led consortium first filed for permission to build the HKA fibre-optic cable in August 2018, and the FCC invited public comment on the project that would have connected two sites in California – Manchester and Hermosa Beach – with Hong Kong and Toucheng in Taiwan.

“Due to ongoing concerns from the US government about direct communications links between the US and Hong Kong, we have decided to withdraw our FCC application,” a Facebook spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal.

“We look forward to working with all the parties to reconfigure the system to meet the concerns of the US government,” the spokeswoman added.

STALLED CONNECTIONS

It is the latest international fibre-optic data project to stall due to US opposition that began in August 2020, when then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Clean Network programme, which excluded Chinese participation in undersea cables used by the US.

Of the 11 submarine cable applications listed on the FCC website, four include links to Hong Kong.

One of them, the Pacific Light Cable Network funded by Facebook and Google owner Alphabet, is on hold.

In June 2020, Google said it was considering alternative destinations for the link after the US government warned against connecting Hong Kong due to security concerns.

“We are looking at alternatives. You always have alternative plans or are evaluating alternatives,” Thomas Kurian, the head of Google’s cloud computing business, told the Financial Times.

Another on the list, the Bay-to-Bay Express system – a planned network by Facebook and Amazon to link Singapore, Malaysia and the US via Hong Kong – has also been cancelled.

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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.

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