China's No. 2 science and technology priority out of a recently released list of 100 would take its countrymen almost 2 miles beneath the surface of the South China Sea. Bloomberg reports on China's intention to build a manned deep-sea platform from which it could hunt for minerals, an idea in the works for a decade and now given accelerated priority, according to a Science Ministry presentation Bloomberg viewed. Concrete details are scarce—no blueprints, no word on cost, for instance—but the thinking is that a dozen or so crew members could stay inside the movable platform for up to a month at a time. It would "be mainly for civil use, but we can’t rule out it will carry some military functions," says a government researcher.
So is it doable? A senior fellow at a think tank specializing in US defense policy thinks so. While a "long-term inhabited station has not been attempted this deep ... manned submersibles have gone to those depths for almost 50 years. The challenge is operating it for months at a time." Tensions over the South China Sea are high, with China claiming more than 80% of waters, despite similar claims from other countries. An underwater station controlled by China isn't likely to ease the situation. Among the other goals in China's latest Five-Year Plan, per Shanghaiist: floating nuclear power plants, which could ostensibly power the platform. (Read more South China Sea stories.)