China is stepping up efforts to build a deep-sea underwater ‘space station’ in the South China Sea.
If the plans go ahead, the station would be located 3000 metres below the surface, inhabited by humans, and would be used to hunt for minerals.
There are also concerns that it would be used for military purposes in territories that are hotly contested between China and other nations, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.
The news comes from a Science Ministry presentation that revealed China’s current five-year economic plan (till 2020).
Despite no further details or blueprints being made public, the presentation ranked this project as second in a list of 100 science and technology priorities according to Bloomberg.
Bryan Clark, at the Centre For Strategic And Budgetary Assessments, 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.”
The South China Sea is one of the most important trade routes in the world. At least $5 trillion of commercial goods pass through the area each year.
The area is also thought to have a significant amount of oil and gas reserves. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there are 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in proven and probable reserves.
Earlier this year, China claimed to have discovered the deepest “blue hole” on the planet in the South China Sea.
Called ‘Dragon Hole’, this vast sinkhole in the middle of the ocean is believed to plummet some 987 feet straight down, smashing the previous record by more than 300 feet.