Apparently, China is interested in the South China Sea for more than just its tourism options, accelerating plans to design and build a massive deep-sea platform that could help to hunt for valuable minerals 3,000 meters below the surface of the disputed waters.
Recently, Bloomberg News viewed a presentation made by China’s Science Ministry about their priority pet project. Precious little information about the proposed undersea base was actually released. We don’t know where exactly it will be built, for how much or what it will even look like.
However, its ostensible purpose would be to extract goodies from the mineral-rich deep-sea waters of the South China Sea. But scrounging around for oil and natural gas, isn’t the only thing that such a platform would be used for. According to Bloomberg, the ministry presentation also mentioned that the platform would be movable and used for military purposes, though its not clear what exactly those would be. “China’s project will be mainly for civil use, but we can’t rule out it will carry some military functions,” said Xu Liping, senior researcher for Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
In fact, this project was part of China’s most-recent Five-Year Plan, released in March, ranking all the way up at number two in a list of 100 science and technology priorities. Officials recently reevaluated the project and decided that things needed to be sped up even more.
While China has yet to slap a price tag on their underwater lab, it will obviously be extremely expensive, though feasible, according to Brian Clark, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who told Bloomberg:
“Having this kind of long-term inhabited station has not been attempted this deep, but it is certainly possible. Manned submersibles have gone to those depths for almost 50 years. The challenge is operating it for months at a time.”
Of course, China is no stranger to seemingly impossible challenges, especially in the South China Sea. To help fortify their claims in the region, China has reclaimed over 3,000 acres of territory in the last two years, turning once barren reefs barely sticking up above the tide, into island paradises, full of cute female soldiers and vegetable gardens — all while fighting off claims from angry neighbors and “freedom of navigation” patrols from the US.
In fact, its attempts at protecting its sovereignty in the South China Sea seem to be spurring China to new heights of innovation. Another part of China’s Five Year Plan is the planning and construction of a fleet of floating nuclear power plants that will provide power to its artificial islands and presumably its underwater labs.