- ‘Peace’ as a weapon in the digital age?
- Front against forced labor in Xinjiang crumbles
- Piraeus becomes the head of the dragon
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The world is getting smaller and smaller. Thanks to modern Internet connections and advancing digitalization, information and data are sent around the world at breakneck speed. Whether it’s a Zoom meeting with colleagues in Asia, a Skype call with friends in Dubai, or streaming films directly from Bollywood in India – distances are becoming less important. Deep-sea fiber-optic cables are crucial to this. They are laid at the bottom of the oceans and form the backbone of our modern world. But as invisible as they may be, their importance is hard to overestimate because: The respective cable operators decide not only how much but also which data can be sent.
It is precisely the deep-sea fiber-optic cable with the peaceful name Peace that is now becoming a point of contention in Sino-American relations, as Ning Wang reports. She analyses the role that companies such as Google, Facebook, Huawei, and Hengtong play in the dispute over deep-sea cables and how the two superpowers might try to control global data traffic.
Clearly more visible than a deep-sea cable is the port of Piraeus on the Aegean Sea. It was during the financial crisis of 2008 that Europe – and especially Germany’s then Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble – urged the Greeks to sell the ailing port. Beijing immediately pounced – and so many European politicians wondered about the alleged bad investment by the Chinese. Frank Sieren shows how Beijing has, since then, expanded the port into one of Europe’s largest container handling locations. But it’s about more than just profit: The port of Piraeus has become a strategic hub for the Chinese in Europe – much to the displeasure of Europeans and Americans.
European and American politicians should also not like what Marcel Grzanna observes: The front against forced labor in the Xinjiang region is beginning to crumble. Apparently, the calls for a Chinese boycott have led to fears in Western company headquarters that one could make somewhat less profit in the important sales market. Not everyone may go as far as the Japanese fashion chain Muji, which explicitly advertises Xinjiang’s great cotton. But the trend is clear: China’s market power is playing an ever-greater role in a world that is becoming smaller.
‘Peace’ as a weapon in the digital age
It’s about communication, such as Zoom meetings, which are currently taking place more frequently due to the pandemic. But also e-mails, films, and video calls. Control over the data traffic that results from this is now threatening to become the next conflict between the US and China. The trigger is a deep-sea cable that bears the name “Peace” of all things – standing for “Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe”. Peace, when the project is completed at the end of the year, is a fiber-optic cable that will first run over land from China to Pakistan and then go underwater for 12,000 kilometers at the port of Gwadar. It splits before the Horn of Africa: Heading to the south, it reaches Kenya while heading north towards Europe in France, it comes ashore again near a popular beach in Marseille.
As with other deep-sea cable projects, the focus is on reliable connectivity so that companies operating around the world can communicate and transfer data smoothly. The speed of the Peace cable is so great that 90,000 hours of Netflix movies could be transported per second, according to calculations by the financial services provider Bloomberg.
“The Peace cable is primarily intended to provide reliable and fast internet connectivity to Chinese companies operating in Europe and Africa,” Bloomberg further reports. However, it also plays an important role as part of the “Digital Silk Road”. On the one hand, Beijing wants to use the Peace submarine cable project to bind the countries through which it runs more closely to itself by means of infrastructure measures; on the other hand, it can demonstrate its own technological sovereignty by expanding state-of-the-art data lines.