Cautious China hails ongoing mineral, oil search below South China Sea

New York, Sept.12 (ANI): Three Chinese scientists have plunged to the bottom of the South China Sea to explore remote and inaccessible parts of the ocean floor, which said to be rich in oil, minerals and other resources.

The Chinese says many of those resources happen to lie in areas where China has clashed repeatedly with its neighbors over territorial claims.

Beijing has described the feat of planting a flag on the bed of the South China Sea with the help of a submersible craft as a great achievement.

"It is a great achievement," the China Daily, which telegraphs government positions to the outside world, quoted Liu Feng, director of the dives, as saying.

The global seabed is littered with what experts say is trillions of dollars' worth of mineral nodules as well as many objects of intelligence value: undersea cables carrying diplomatic communications, lost nuclear arms, sunken submarines and hundreds of warheads left over from missile tests.

While a single small craft cannot reel in all these treasures, it does put China in an excellent position to mine them.

"They're in it for a penny and a pound," the New York Times quoted Don Walsh, a pioneer of deep-ocean diving, who recently visited the submersible and its makers in China.

He added: "It's a very deliberate program."

The small craft that made the trip - named Jiaolong, after a mythical sea dragon - was unveiled publicly late last month after eight years of secretive development. It is designed to go deeper than any other in the world, giving China access to 99.8 percent of the ocean floor.

Technically, it is a submersible. These craft differ from submarines in their small size, their need for a mother ship on the surface, and their ability to dive extraordinarily far despite the darkness and the crushing pressures. The world has only a few.

Jiaolong is meant to go as deep as 7,000 meters, or 4.35 miles, edging out the current global leader. Japan's Shinkai 6500 can go as deep as 6,500 meters, outperforming craft "all over the world," according to its makers.

Russia, France and the United States lag further behind in the game of going deep.

China is moving cautiously. Jiaolong's sea trials began quietly last year and are to continue until 2012, its dives going deeper in increments.

"They're being very cautious. They respect what they don't know and are working hard to learn," Dr. Walsh said, adding that the Chinese were especially interested in avoiding the embarrassment of a disaster that ends with the aquanauts' entrapment or death.

Wang Weizhong, China's Vice Minister of Science and Technology, said the Jiaolong's sea trials "marked a milestone" for Beijing and global exploration.

The United States once held the submersible lead. In 1960, it sent Dr. Walsh, then a Navy officer, to the ocean's deepest spot, seven miles down. But over the decades, it lost its edge to France, Russia and, most recently, Japan.

China began its push in 2002. A few Westerners became aware of the guarded effort when China ordered from Russia the forging of a spherical hull about seven feet wide.

China also turned to the United States for tutoring. In 2005, five Chinese trainee pilots and one scientist participated in eight dives on Alvin, the oldest and most famous of the world's deep-diving craft, which is run by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod.

China "bought time on Alvin to gain experience," according to the Deep Submergence Science Committee, a group that advises the federal government and universities on ocean exploration. (ANI)

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