China said yesterday it had used a small, manned submarine to plant the national flag deep beneath the South China Sea, where Beijing has tussled with Washington and Southeast Asian nations over territorial disputes.
The submarine achieved the feat during 17 dives from May to last month, when it went as deep as 3,759m below the South China Sea, China News Service said, citing the Ministry of Science and Technology and State Oceanic Administration.
Chinese news reports did not say where the submarine went, whether it visited disputed waters, or why the announcement was held off until now. It was the first time a Chinese submersible vehicle has gone that deep, the reports said.
China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines all stake claims to territory in the South China Sea. All except Brunei have a military presence in the area, and the boundary claims have sparked clashes in the past.
The submarine test underscored China’s ambitions to join the race for resources in the ocean depths.
“This success also shows that our country has become one of the handful possessing deep-sea manned submersible technology,” Liu Feng (劉峰), the engineer in charge of the deep-sea dive, told television news.
The South China Sea covers an area of more than 1.7 million square kilometers, with more than 200 mostly uninhabitable islets, rocks and reefs. The sea holds valuable fishing grounds and as-yet largely unexploited oil and natural gas fields.
China accused the US of meddling after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the territorial claims in the sea at a forum in Hanoi last month, and said Washington backed a multilateral approach to resolving them.
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