The plan was unveiled at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing this month, after President Xi visited a deep sea research institute in Hainan province in April. There, he urged scientists to push to make China the owner of the world’s first deep sea base, the South China Morning Post reported.
“There is no road in the deep sea, we do not need to chase [after other countries], we are the road,” he said.
The base, if everything goes according to plan, would be located in the deepest part of the ocean, 6,000 meters below the surface. Known as the Hadal zone –after Hades, the Greek ruler of the underworld– the pitch darkness and crushing atmospheric pressure of the zone means the scientists will need to develop new technology and materials.
Eventually, they hope to install an undersea base controlled by artificial intelligence, where unmanned exploration vehicles could dock and robots could carry out scientific research.
“It is as challenging as building a colony on another planet for robotic residents with artificial intelligence,” one of the scientists involved told the SCMP. “The technology can change the world.”
The scientist’s enthusiasm is not all hyperbole. Humans have explored less than one percent of the planet’s sea bed, and we know fairly little about this surface, which covers 70 percent of the Earth.
However, present-day constraints might limit China’s ambition. The South China Sea is one of the most disputed waterways in the world, and China’s militarization of the Vietnamese-claimed Paracel islands, and the Philippines-claimed Spratly islands, has already led to confrontation – including a deadly naval battle with Vietnam in 1974.