This article was updated May 18 at 2:50 p.m Eastern Time. 

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Chinese satellite fleet operator China Satcom is preparing to support the country’s ambitious international trade development program by growing its footprint in maritime and aviation services, among others.

Of particular interest is China’s “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” Zhang Yu, senior sales manager at China Satcom, said here May 18.

The goal of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which began in 2013, is to foster increased trade through a modernized version of the Silk Road, connecting Asia, Europe and Africa through investments in trade infrastructure. The maritime route links to Europe through two paths that start in the South China Sea: one passing through the South Pacific while the other cuts straight to the Indian Ocean. A third path does not terminate in Europe but passes by the Philippines on the way toward Eastern Indonesia.

“It is a tool for friendship,” Yu said of the Belt and Road Initiative. “Right now we are also trying to follow up this strategy by providing more satellite service to [the] Indonesian government, the military [and] to the enterprise.”

China hosted the first Belt and Road Summit May 14-15, drawing leaders from 29 countries, according to the state-run news outlet Xinhua, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey. Notable absences included India and several countries in Europe, ultimately forming a list of reticent countries with concerns about China’s goals with the globalization program.

China Satcom is unlikely to be the only satellite operator providing connectivity for trade routes bolstered through Chinese investment. China’s Belt and Road Portal website quotes Zhao Houlin, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations body responsible for regulating telecommunications policies, as praising the potential the program has to spur connectivity.

“The internet penetration rate is over 80 percent in developed countries, 40 percent in developing countries, and lower than 15 percent in the least-developed countries. The Belt and Road Initiative will help more countries to cross the ‘digital gap’, and let more people enjoy better development opportunities,” he said.

Yu described China Satcom’s provision of connectivity to Indonesia’s navy, police and an aviation customer as evidence of the company’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. He said the company plans to further support the 21 Century Maritime Silk Road with a connectivity offering provided through one of its subsidiaries.

“Marine Tel is a brand of maritime VSAT broadband satellite service,” he said. “It provides a boost to the Belt and Road Initiative.”

In 2015 China Satcom’s parent company China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. inked an agreement with China Railway Signal & Communication Co. to collaborate on transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, including ways to apply satellite to the “One Belt and One Road” initiative.

China Belt and Road
A map of China’s Belt and Road initiative. Credit: China Daily
A map of China’s Belt and Road initiative. Credit: China Daily

China Satcom has nine satellites in orbit that collectively cover three quarters of the world’s population. Yu said the company generated $220 million in 2016 revenue, and has three more satellites planned, including a large high-throughput satellite (HTS) with around 70 Gbps of Ka-band capacity over the Asia-Pacific.

In April, China launched the country’s first HTS satellite, ChinaSat-16, on a domestic Long March 3b rocket. Yu said the satellite is not only a technology experiment, but also a market experiment to judge the market’s readiness for HTS capacity.

“In China, we already delivered fiber optics to almost 80 percent [of the population], so how can we still need an HTS satellite in China? Nobody knows this answer, so right now, we designed the first Ka-satellite with 20 Gbps and we want to test and we want to see how is [the] market in China,” he said.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...