China is drastically accelerating its efforts to build a deep-sea research platform – but they aren’t doing it for the science. They’re doing it to figure out ways to mine all those sweet minerals from the bottom of the sea.
The “oceanic space station” will be located 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) below the surface, according to a recent Science Ministry presentation viewed and reported by Bloomberg. The project was ranked 2 on China’s top “100 science priorities” and was mentioned in the current five-year economic plan.
The project was already a priority for China, but authorities have now decided to accelerate their efforts.
“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, few details have been publicly released, and we still don’t have an estimated timeline, cost, or even a location. The announcement comes in a very tense moment for China’s maritime affairs. Under President Xi Jinping, the country has asserted its dominance more and more strenuously in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, drawing the anger of states like Vietnam and the Philippines. This announcement is set to flame the spirits even more, especially given the reason why China is bent on building this marine lab: minerals.
“The deep sea contains treasures that remain undiscovered and undeveloped, and in order to obtain these treasures we have to control key technologies in getting into the deep sea, discovering the deep sea, and developing the deep sea,” Xi said last month at a national science conference.
To make the whole situation even more uneasy, aside from China’s mineral drive, this station could also prove useful for military purpose. However, Chinese academics insist that the purpose of this project is economic rather than military.
“To develop the ocean is an important strategy for the Chinese government, but the deep sea space station is not designed against any country or region,” said Xu Liping, a senior researcher for Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government-run institute.
“China’s project will be mainly for civil use, but we can’t rule out it will carry some military functions,” Xu said. “Many countries in the world have been researching thise kind of deep water projects and China is just one of those nations.”