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China wants to build an underwater 'space station' 10,000 feet below the surface

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In the disputed waters of the South China Sea

China Daily Life Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China is ramping up efforts to build a "space station" — not in low Earth orbit or around the Moon, but about 10,000 feet below the surface, on the seabed of the South China Sea. The deep-sea platform will be used to hunt for oil and gas reserves, but could also serve for military operations, Bloomberg reports.

The project, which was described in a Chinese Science Ministry presentation viewed by Bloomberg, is included in the country’s current five-year economic plan and ranks number two among the top 100 science and technology priorities for the Chinese government.

"The deep sea contains treasures that remain undiscovered and undeveloped."

"The deep sea contains treasures that remain undiscovered and undeveloped," China’s president Xi Jinping said last month at a national science conference, "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."

It’s still unclear when the ocean-floor platform will be built, where exactly, and how much it will cost, but its location is key. The waters of the South China Sea, a major shipping route, are highly disputed among countries like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. China has claimed control over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea and has been building seven artificial islands, as well as ports and radar facilities. Building a deep-sea station to aid with offshore drilling — and potentially military operations — is strategic for China.

"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," Xu Liping, a senior researcher for Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Bloomberg.

"We can’t rule out it will carry some military functions."

"China’s project will be mainly for civil use, but we can’t rule out it will carry some military functions," Xu said. "Many countries in the world have been researching these kind of deep-water projects and China is just one of those nations."

One of the goals of the underwater station, which will host dozens of crew members for up to a month, is to help China become a global technology superpower by 2030. The news comes a few months after the country revealed its plan for the so-called Underwater Great Wall — a network of sensors that will help detect US and Russian submarines in the South China Sea.