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Trump administration poised to reject US-Hong Kong undersea data cable

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A government body has recommended that the US should formally reject activation of an undersea cable connecting the US and Hong Kong, over fears of data theft by the Chinese government.

The 'Pacific Light Cable Network' connects the US, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines and is the only undersea cable system to use C+L band optical technology, almost doubling the per-fibre capacity across the network and making it the highest capacity trans-Pacific route for internet traffic.

Parts of the network are owned by Google and Facebook (each owning a fibre pair connecting the US and Hong Kong), who are working with Chinese broadband giant Dr Peng Group. The cables have already been laid, with much of construction complete across the network, but final approval is needed for each part to be activated.

Now, a US government committee called 'Team Telecom' has recommended that the US denies approval for the activation of the US-Hong Kong undersea cable on “national security grounds”. If the recommendation is taken up by the Federal Communications Commission, it would be the first cable rejected by the US for these reasons.

The committee is concerned that the link will expose US data to the Chinese government, using Hong Kong as a transit point. It claimed that Chinese intelligence services would be given the opportunity to create “a database more detailed than any nation has ever possessed about one of its rivals”.

Adam Hickey, a Department of Justice official, told Politico: “This cable would change the way US data flows and are stored around the world. It has the potential to establish Hong Kong as the centre of gravity for US data connectivity in Asia, offering unprecedented opportunities for collection by the Chinese intelligence services.”

The committee cited allegations that China has attempted to acquire sensitive data of millions of Americans as well as other states’ data through investments and that Dr Peng Group has a “relationship with Chinese intelligence and security services”. It also cited the Chinese government’s recent crackdown on Hong Kong autonomy enshrined in the “one country, two systems” principle.

The committee raised no objection to the cables connecting the US to the Philippines and Taiwan.

In February, Google and Facebook requested permission to activate the cables joining the US, the Philippines and Taiwan, seemingly resigned to the likelihood that the US-Hong Kong cable would remain inactive amid tensions between the US and China.

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