Undersea Cables, Geoeconomics, and Security in the Indo-Pacific: Risks and Resilience

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
October 26–27, 2023

Submerged deep beneath the ocean, networks of undersea cables form the critical infrastructure that enables the communication and connectivity upon which societies are built. Over 95 percent of global Internet traffic relies on these cables, and they transmit approximately $10 trillion in financial transactions data throughout the global economy daily. Their destruction could bring down the communications systems of multiple countries, and even minor damage could cause significant disruptions. Consequently, undersea cables exist at the intersection of important issues related to marine policy, including politics, economics, maritime security, international law, and governance.

The Indo-Pacific has been the most active region for cable construction in recent years, and these networks have also been drawn into the dynamics of US-China strategic competition. On October 26–27, 2023, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Center for Indo-Pacific Affairs convened a two-day conference in Honolulu, Hawai‘i in partnership with Keio University and Khalifa University with the support of a generous grant from the Japan Foundation. This conference brought together international experts from the US, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as local experts based in Honolulu. Over the course the two days, the conference addressed the following questions: Why is undersea cable competition intensifying in the Indo-Pacific? How are threats to undersea cable networks evolving, and what are the implications for regional resilience? Why do national perspectives differ, and how does this impact the prospects for future conflict and cooperation? How do public-private sector dynamics in this sector impact domestic and regional policy outcomes, and where are the areas of tension for improvement?

Some of the research from this conference was published in a series of policy reports, while the rest will be published in a special issue in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Policy.

Policy Reports:

Summary of Conference Presentations

Overview of Initial Project Themes and Framework

Kristi Govella, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Session 1: History, Security, and Critical Infrastructure

  • The Historical Context of Undersea Cable Development
    Motohiro Tsuchiya, Keio University
  • Critical Maritime Infrastructure Protection in the Indo-Pacific
    Christian Bueger, University of Copenhagen
  • Underwater Surveillance Technology: Lessons from the Past, Implications for the Future
    Mizuho Kajiwara, Keio University Global Research Institute

Discussant: Denny Roy, East-West Center

Session 2: The Quad Countries

  • India’s Pointed-Alignment Strategy on Underseas Cables
    Jagannath Panda, Stockholm Center for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs
  • Can Government Connect with Business over Cables? Improving Public-Private Partnerships on Undersea Cables in the Pacific
    Hayley Channer, United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney
  • The Quad’s Trust Deficit and Protecting Undersea Communication Cables in the Indo-Pacific
    Brendon J. Cannon, Khalifa University

Discussant: Akhil Ramesh, Pacific Forum

Session 3: Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands

  • Southeast Asian Approaches to the Security of Submarine Cables: Problems and Prospects for Cooperation
    Tara Davenport, National University of Singapore
  • Southeast Asia Amid Regional Undersea Cable Competition
    Elina Noor, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Resilience and Security of Communications in Pacific Island States: The Role of Cables
    Amanda H. A. Watson, Australian National University

Discussant: Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Session 4: Cyber and Emerging Technology

  • The Rise of Cyber Power in the Indo-Pacific Area: The Case Study of Submarine Cables
    Luigi Martino, University of Bologna
  • Emerging Technology and Undersea Cable Resilience in the Indo-Pacific
    Ash Rossiter, Khalifa University
  • Indo-Pacific Cable Protection: Bolstering Internet Resilience and Security
    Justin Sherman, Atlantic Council

Discussant: Kristi Govella, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Concluding Remarks

Kristi Govella, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa