Has Geopolitical Conflict Between China and the U.S. Caused Their Networks to Disconnect?


By Tim StrongeJun 5, 2023


Let’s talk about geopolitical conflict between China and the U.S. and how it’s affecting the network. Has it caused the two countries to disconnect?

This conflict has certainly affected us in the submarine cable industry.

A few years ago, Team Telecom objected to the PLCN Submarine Cable Landing License application, partially on grounds of their ownership structure—which had some Chinese ownership—and also because of the cable’s topology. 

SubOptic Myth 5.2

The cable was going to land in Hong Kong. In order to get approval, that had to be reconstituted.

Here’s another one—BtoBE—also landing in Hong Kong.

SubOptic Myth 5.3


HKA—a third cable system eyeing Hong Kong—coming straight from the U.S. mainland.

SubOptic Myth 5.4

Again, no. That’s not going to happen.

Political tensions have certainly affected the cable industry in the last four years, but have the U.S. and China’s networks disconnected?

I'm going to look at a few different ways of testing this myth.

Screen Shot 2023-05-31 at 1-44-42 PM

Direct Physical Disconnect Test

There is certainly a disconnection of direct physical networks between China and the U.S.

While there are some old cables that still connect the two countries, it's pretty clear that newer cables are not going to be allowed to do so in the near future.

But that's not the whole picture.

Indirect Physical Disconnect Test

Let's also look at indirect physical connection. First of all, is it even possible to get from the U.S. to China?

Of course, it is. You may have to stop in Japan, or the Philippines, or Singapore and go from there onto Shanghai or Hong Kong, but there are a lot of options for intra-Asian physical networks. You just have to make an extra hop now.

In fact, there are 17 new intra-Asian cables that are currently in the works, and many more that haven't been announced yet.

So already, our second test has been busted.

I also want to remind everyone that while we are accustomed to working at the physical layer, there are seven different layers of the network stack.

SubOptic Myth 5-6

Next, we're going to talk about layer 4, layer 3, and layer 2.

Three More Disconnect Tests

The video below walks through our tests of BGP, network presence, and layer 2/3 connectivity.


The Conclusion

To summarize the results of our disconnect tests, there has been a disruption of direct physical connection. However, indirect physical connection has not been disconnected, and BGP, network presence, and layer 3 network links are still growing.

Screen Shot 2023-05-31 at 1-54-35 PM

While tensions no longer allow for new end-to-end submarine cable connections right now, to date, overall network connectivity has been unchanged.

So we can call this myth busted.

Screen Shot 2023-05-31 at 2-02-28 PM

Alan Mauldin and I tackled this myth and five others during our presentation at SubOptic 2023. Download our slides for the full breakdown.

Tim Stronge

Tim Stronge

Tim Stronge is VP of Research at TeleGeography. His responsibilities span across many of our research practices including network infrastructure, bandwidth demand modeling, cross-border traffic flows, and telecom services pricing.

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