Following Japan’s Project Ocean Spiral, China has recently released plans for a 1.1 billion yuan (160 million USD) underwater city in the Hadal Zone (6000-11,000 meters deep) of the South China Sea. The prospective habitation will be designed somewhat like a space station, with docking platforms and cutting-edge analytical equipment. In contradistinction to Ocean Spiral, China’s deepsea structure is planned to be partially autonomous, operating via a mechanical “brain.” Robotic submarines are to be deployed for sea-bed surveillance for the project.
The South China Morning Post has described the project as the “first artificial intelligence colony on Earth.”
The geopolitical complications will prove just as, if not more, challenging than the technical and financial challenges, given that the South China Sea (SCS) is one of the most strongly contested areas in the world. Seven territories lay claim to the waterway, including, People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. As of 2016, 5 trillion USD worth of goods were moved through the SCS waterways annually, with China being the primary benefactor of such freedom of movement, thus, the incentives to maintain a hold over the region are extensive. China has, in the past, come under criticism by the US for its actions in the South China Sea, most notably for its construction of artificial islands and its militarization of those maritime zones.
A Oct. 2018 close-encounter between a Chinese destroyer and the USS Decatur, only served to ratchet up tensions in the region even further.
The geopolitical snags will only intensify if China continues along with its other major project, crafting over 20 floating nuclear reactors in the SCS by 2020, a move which may violate international law (as per the 2016 UN court rulings), depending on who is asked and what, precisely, they build and where. Regardless, the scope of the project is grand and China’s ambitions, admirable.
One potential partner in the venture may be the Philippines, whose government, currently lead by Rodrigo Duterte, has pulled away from the country’s historical ally, the USA, in favor of closer ties to the Eurasian Bloc, namely, Russia and China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, said of the project, “There is no road in the deep sea, we do not need to chase [after other countries], we are the road.”