A Report: China’s ‘Digital Silk Road’ is being built to improve Pakistani internet traffic
The PEACE cable will provide the shortest direct internet route between participating countries and will drastically reduce the time taken to transfer internet data.
China is all set to lay the final stretch of a cross-border fiber optic cable in Pakistan as part of the broader Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to reports, this will create a Digital Silk Road, serving the geostrategic interests of both countries.
The ambitious multi-trillion-dollar BRI initiative (or the new Silk Road), announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to boost connectivity and cooperation between East Asia, Europe, and East Africa. According to expert estimates, it is expected to significantly increase global trade, while cutting trading costs in half for the countries involved.
Details about the Fiber Cable
The PEACE cable will provide the shortest direct internet route between participating countries and will drastically reduce the time taken to transfer internet data. The fiber cable will connect to the Pakistan East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) submarine cable in the Arabian Sea to service countries participating in BRI and Europe.
The report on the matter read:
The $240-million project, which is in partnership with China’s Huawei Technologies, was approved by the government last week. Therefore, the cable is currently being laid between Rawalpindi and the port cities of Karachi and Gwadar.
Following the government’s approval this month to construct an Arabian Sea landing station in Karachi, the laying of sea cable in the country’s territorial waters will begin in March.
The report stated:
The Mediterranean section of the cable is already being laid. The 15,000 kilometer-long line runs from Egypt to France and is expected to go into service later this year.
Observers believe that this is a strategic move to circumvent international telecommunication consortiums dominated by Western and Indian companies.
BRI Projects and the Coronavirus
Acknowledging the Coronavirus effects on the BRI projects, reports stated:
Some BRI projects have been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic and debt crises in partner countries, including a $6.8 billion railway project in Pakistan. Part of Beijing’s response has been to step up digital projects and the development of communications infrastructure.
The report further acknowledged that in recent months, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority had accelerated efforts to improve Gwadar’s connectivity with major road and rail upgrades.
A Comparison of the current and improved Internet cable system in Pakistan
Most Europe-bound internet traffic from China feeds through terrestrial cables traversing Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Pakistan is also looking for an alternate link to the internet through China.
According to Telegeography, a Washington-based telecommunications market research company, Pakistan is currently being served by seven submarine cables, four of which come out of India. These cable networks have been developed by consortiums that include telecom companies from India, Egypt, and Pakistan.
The report read:
The PEACE cable is expected to reduce Pakistan’s exposure to internet outages from damaged submarine cables by providing an additional route for internet connectivity.
Eyck Freymann, author of One Belt One Road: Chinese Power Meets the World, stated:
The BRI is evolving to place less emphasis on traditional heavy infrastructure and more on high-tech cooperation and digital services.
He further added:
Beijing wants to dominate the physical infrastructure underlying global communications, particularly the internet. This will give it an advantage in internationalizing its tech sector and pursuing future tech-related deals with partner countries.
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