On Tuesday, reports surfaced that the Chinese government has installed a large farm on its artificial island in the Spratly archipelago. This followed the construction of a hospital, lighthouse, and tourist resorts on the land reclamation projects.
But now Beijing has revealed an even more ambitious project: a deep-sea platform that can submerge as much as 9,800 feet below the surface.
While the endeavor was first announced as part of a five-year economic plan released in March, it has now become a top priority for China’s Science Ministry.
"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," Chinese President Xi Jinping told reporters last month at a national science conference.
While the sea lab will not be the first of its kind, it’s certainly the most ambitious.
"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 Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, according to the Washington Times.
The United States and its Pacific allies have condemned China’s land reclamation projects as an attempt to control the South China Sea, a region through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually. While Beijing claims most of the waterway, there are overlapping claims by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Xu Liping, a senior researcher for Southeast Asian Affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has stressed that the sea lab is not meant as an affront to any nation.
"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," he said, according to Bloomberg News.
"China’s project will be mainly for civil use, but we can’t rule out it will carry some military functions. Many countries in the world have been researching these kind of deep water projects and China is just one of those nations."
While the United States does not have any claims in the region, it has pushed allies to play a more active role in countering China and conducted its own aggressive patrols within the 12-mile territorial limit of the artificial islands.