China is revving up its attempts to build a deep-sea "space station" to harvest minerals in the disputed South China Sea region, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. The report comes as tensions remain high between China, its Asia Pacific neighbors and the U.S. over land claims in the area.
The station would be located 3,000 meters, or approximately 3,280 yards, below the surface of the water, and it is a top priority for the Chinese government, according to the same report. The operating base would be used to search for minerals and other natural resources in the relatively unexplored area. A station this deep poses some practical challenges.
“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.”
The controversy in the South China Sea stems from a series of competing land claims over some or all of the area. While the islands in this region are relatively small and uninhabited, they could contain precious natural resources. These spits of land also sit in the middle of several lucrative trade routes.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, among others, have all submitted claims over some part of this area. China has submitted the largest such claim and attempted to bolster that claim by creating islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing has also publicly accused one of its neighbors, the Philippines, of refusing to cooperate on maritime issues, saying diplomatic authorities had reached out on multiple occasions without receiving any response.
"China urges the Philippines to immediately cease its wrongful conduct of pushing forward the arbitral proceedings, and return to the right path of settling the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation with China," China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.