Handing over Infrastructure for China’s Strategic Objectives. ‘Arctic Connect’ and the Digital Silk Road in the Arctic*
With the constant increase of data flows there is a demand for better infrastructure to facilitate the growth of the digital sector. Arctic Connect, a Finnish plan to link Europe and Asia through a submarine communication cable along the Northern Sea Route (NSR), promises to deliver faster and more reliable internet connections between Europe, Russia and Asia due to shorter distances and fewer disruptions caused by human activity along the Northern Sea Route.
Finland is interested in this project, because it wants to attract investment into data centres by developing the necessary infrastructure. For its part, China is interested within the framework of the Digital Silk Road in building transcontinental and cross-border data cables, as well as finding markets for its data cable service providers, such as Huawei Marine, whose platform has already been chosen for the construction of Arctic Connect.
With the construction of Arctic Connect, China would increase its defensiive intelligence gathering capabilities, because its data transfer with Europe would no longer go through foreign data cables and as such would be better shielded from outside actors. Chinese offensive intelligence gathering capabilities would also increase; the Chinese companies contracted to build the project are obliged by PRC law to collaborate with intelligence services.
In addition, the construction of Arctic Connect would enable China to implement underwater surveillance capabilities it has been developing through military-civilian fusion in the South and East China Seas. A 10,000 km data cable can itself be used for underwater acoustic sensing; together with sensors and underwater drones it would enable China to extend its Underwater Great Wall to the strategically important Arctic region. “Eyes and ears” under the Arctic Sea would significantly improve China’s nuclear deterrence by increasing the visibility of an adversary’s submarines in the strategically important area.
- A new political perception survey and feasibility study f Arctic Connect project should be conducted with a focus on the aforementioned security threats.
- Procurement procedures for the best service provider for the Arctic Connect project should take into consideration potential security threats: a service provider’s relations with a foreign government and its security apparatus, as well as its previous behaviour.
- An EU policy framework and initiatives should be developed in order to guarantee the strategic autonomy of communications infrastructure.
- EU member states should develop a legal framework for licensing telecommunications service providers on the basis of a security assessment.
- The EU and member states should work together to improve their encryption capabilities, in order to guarantee data privacy.
* Peer reviewed article
** Policy brief presented at the conference „Beyond Huawei: Europe’s adoption of PRC technology and its implications“, Prague, 27 November 2019. Sinopsis. China in content and Perspective. 7.03.2020. https://sinopsis.cz/en/arctic-digital-silk-road/