US emphasizes cybersecurity for connectivity

February 2, 2024 2:36 pm

Pacific Islands need to boost digital security to join undersea cable, says US official.

Pacific Island nations that want to connect to U.S. funded undersea cables will need to secure their digital ecosystems to guard against data risks from China.

This has been stressed by U.S. Department of State’s ambassador at large for cyberspace and digital policy, Nathaniel Fick.

Article continues after advertisement

The US pledged last year to jointly fund two undersea cables, to be built by Google (GOOGL.O), which will open new tab, connecting the U.S. territory of Guam with hubs in Fiji and French Polynesia, and further branching out across remote Pacific Islands.

The proposed intra-Pacific cable project has offered to branch out to Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Fiji, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Wallis and Futuna and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Fick visited Fiji this week as Washington prioritises which islands will have the opportunity to plug in.

Fick says the digital ecosystems in countries connecting to the cables need to be secured “from end to end”, which excludes what he calls “untrusted” Chinese-built data centres or phone towers.

He told REUTERS that investing a lot of money in these nodes is going to require these states to behave in some ways that mitigate the risk, to the greatest possible extent.

China and the U.S. are jostling for influence in the Pacific Islands with competing offers for infrastructure.

Australian telecommunications company Telstra, a partner in the new U.S.-backed project, in a statement, says that the cables will “dramatically improve the diversity of paths between Guam to Australia via Fiji and other Pacific islands, and between the US mainland and Australia”.