After Turning down China Pacific Island looks to Australia for an Undersea Connection

Following the rejection of a Chinese plan, the Pacific island of Nauru is in talks to build an undersea communications cable that would connect to an Australian network, according to two persons familiar with the talks.

The US and its Pacific allies are concerned that Chinese cables could jeopardise regional security. Beijing has rejected any plans to utilise commercial optic fibre cables for eavesdropping, despite the fact that they have significantly larger data capacity than satellites.

Nauru, which has strong links to US ally Australia, helped sabotage a World Bank-led cable tender earlier this year, fearing that the contract would be given to the former Huawei Marine, now known as HMN Tech after the Chinese firm submitted a bid that was more than 20% lower than competitors.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been approached by the tiny Pacific nation of a little over 12,000 people to help fund an alternative. The Asian Development Bank is in early talks with the government of Nauru about funding an undersea cable that will provide low-cost, high-quality internet access. In due course, the specifics of the connection arrangement and funding sources will be finalised.

A new idea would require installing a cable between Nauru and Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, which is around 1,250 kilometres (776.7 miles) distant. The new line would then connect to the 4,700-kilometer Coral Sea Cable system, which connects Australia to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. That line, which was built by Sydney-based Vocus Group and was mostly funded by Australia, was finished in 2019 to beat off a competing offer from Huawei Marine, which was then owned by Huawei Technologies.

After Huawei Technologies sold the submarine cable business last year, Shanghai-listed Hengtong Optic-Electric Co Ltd currently owns a majority stake in the former Huawei Marine. According to the sources, Australia and the Solomon Islands must support Nauru’s strategy. It’s unclear whether Nauru has asked Australia for financial assistance or simply requires Canberra’s permission to join the Coral Sea Cable system.

Australia and the Solomon Islands must support Nauru’s strategy. It’s unclear whether Nauru has asked Australia for financial assistance or simply requires Canberra’s permission to join the Coral Sea Cable system. Requests for comment from the governments of Nauru, Australia, and the Solomon Islands were not answered. The World Bank stated that it was not participating in discussions for Nauru cable connections.

Nauru was the first to express reservations about a bid submitted by China’s HMN Tech during the World Bank tender process last year to instal subsea cables for Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Kiribati. The US then issued a warning to Pacific island states, claiming that the HMN Tech bid presented a regional security risk. After the island governments heard the US warnings and refused to grant a contract, the project came to a halt.

Australia has increased its presence in the Pacific by establishing a A$2 billion ($1.5 billion) infrastructure financing facility and joining the new “Quad” group, which includes the US, India, and Japan, to offset China’s growing Indo-Pacific ambitions.

Australia is also a member of a trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan to fund an undersea optical fibre cable for Palau, a Pacific island nation.

Photo Credit: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/06/24/asia-pacific/pacific-nations-undersea-cable/