Quad White Paper Calls for Including Attacks on China's Sea Cables as Part of 'Malabar' Naval Drills
China has been scathing in its criticism of the US-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, describing it as an effort to contain the rise of Beijing in the global world order. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has referred to the Quad as an “Indo-Pacific NATO”, also terming Washington’s policy in the region as posing “a big underlying security risk”.
A Quad Task Force report on Monday called for including "attack on undersea cables as part of naval drills” during the annual four-nation Malabar exercise, having identified undersea fibre-optic cables as the backbone of the global economy.
"The Indo-Pacific region, the most populous region in the world with 60% of global GDP and the world’s fastest growing economies, is also home to the fastest growing undersea communication cable networks", states the Quad Task Force, compiled by 31 prominent American, Australian, Indian, and Japanese experts.
Nearly $10 trillion in financial transactions are transmitted through undersea cables every day, says the report compiled by Indian think tank Gateway House: Indian Council of Global Relations.
The Quad Task Force is co-chaired by Lisa Curtis, director of the Indo-Pacific Security Centre for New American Security (Washington), and Surjit Bhalla, the executive director for India at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The 53-page strategy document notes that China, known to have the world’s biggest shipping fleet, has “approved plans for a massive undersea surveillance network” in both the East and South China Seas. It estimates that fishing and shipping activities account for two-thirds of the overall damage to the undersea communication cables.
“Although the systems are officially intended to monitor environmental changes, experts acknowledge that they will have national defence applications, which could include tracking the movements of foreign submarines”, states the task force report.
“The plan includes a number of unspecified sensors on the ocean floor, connected via optical cables to a central processing and monitoring facility in Shanghai”, it also says.
The report comes ahead of the "Malabar-21" drills, set to take place off the coast of Guam, a US-controlled island chain in the Pacific Ocean. The Malabar drills are the clearest military manifestation of the "Quad" alliance
, which comprises Australia, India, Japan, and the US.
While the navies of India, Japan, and the US
are permanent participants in the Malabar drills, the Royal Australian Navy re-joined the naval exercises last year, after making its debut appearance in 2007. At the time, Australia’s then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd withdrew his country from the drills in the wake of Chinese reservations.
An Indian government release said that “complex surface, sub-surface and air operations including live weapon firing drills, anti-surface, anti-air and anti-submarine warfare drills” will be part of the upcoming round of the four-nation exercise.
The Indian Navy has previously stated that four to five Chinese vessels operate in the Indian Ocean Region at any given time.
The new report recounts that in 2020 alone, Chinese dredgers “damaged” undersea cables connecting islands off the coast of the self-governed Chinese province of Taiwan on five different occasions. Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom claims that it spent about $2 million to fix the cables, besides hiring a local fishing boat to conduct daily patrols to ensure the safety of the cables.
The report further states that although companies from the US (SubCom), Japan (NEC), and France (Alcatel Submarine Networks) are current leaders in controlling the undersea fibre optic cable network, China’s Huawei Marine Networks has quickly been catching up in recent years.
“China aims to capture 60% of the world’s fibre-optic communications market by 2025. That goal is directly linked to its global plans for the Digital Silk Road, and Belt and Road Initiatives”, it states.
Among its other recommendations, the Task Force report calls for “challenging China’s rise
” in marine cable networks and “establishing a maritime command center to deal with non-traditional maritime security threats”.