China is speeding up efforts to design and build a manned deep-sea platform to help it hunt for minerals in the South China Sea, one that may also serve a military purpose in the disputed waters.
Such an oceanic “space station” would be located as much as 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) below the surface, according to a recent Science Ministry presentation viewed by Bloomberg. The project was mentioned in China’s current five-year economic plan released in March and ranked number two on a list of the top 100 science and technology priorities.
“Having this kind of long-term inhabited station has not been attempted this deep, but it is certainly possible,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Manned submersibles have gone to those depths for almost 50 years. The challenge is operating it for months at a time.”
So far there are few public details, including a specific time line, any blueprints or a cost estimate — or where in the waterway it might be located. Still, China under President Xi Jinping has asserted itself more strenuously in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Its claims to more than 80 percent of the waters and the creation of artificial islands covering 3,200 acres have inflamed tensions with nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.