- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

China has spent hundreds of billions of dollars for a planned deep-sea platform in disputed waters near the Spratly Islands.

Engineers with the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation plan to create a lab nearly 10,000 feet below the surface of the South China Sea. The move will further rile Vietnam and the Philippines, which contest China’s growing presence in the region.

“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, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told attendees at a national science conference last month that accessing raw materials found at great oceanic depths was of utmost importance to the nation.

“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,” the president said, the website reported.

The waters near the lab’s future location facilitate $5.3 trillion of global trade each year. A Chinese company, Cnooc Ltd., estimated in 2012 that roughly 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist beneath the surface.

Xu Liping, a senior researcher for Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Bloomberg that China’s lab will be “mainly for civil use,” but that officials “can’t rule out it will carry some military functions.”

One such military project, for example, may include China’s “Underwater Great Wall Project” aimed at detecting U.S. and Russian submarines, Bloomberg reported.

China spent $216 billion on state and privately-funded research on the project in 2015, the website reported. Its defense spending this year is estimated at $145 billion.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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