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China: We Explore the Deep Seas Only for Science


Construction is shown on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, the disputed South China Sea, in this June 19, 2017, satellite image released by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative to Reuters on June 29, 2017.

Chinese scientists say their research in the South China Sea is for scientific purposes only. And it will not be used to support China’s claims to the disputed territory.

Lin Qi is a researcher at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Hainan province. The organization is controlled by the government. Lin said the scientists are gathering information on the world’s deepest seas to learn about minerals there.

“You could say to some extent that helps protect our sovereignty claim, but actually the goal of these projects’ designs is not mainly one to show the country’s claim,” Lin told VOA in an interview.

Researchers from state-operated organizations often express the same political positions as the Chinese government.

China claims more than 90 percent of the South China Sea. Some of the sea is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Both Japan and China claim parts of the East China Sea.

FILE - Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront each other off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, Sept. 23, 2015.
FILE - Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront each other off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, Sept. 23, 2015.

What is China looking for in the seas?

Earlier this year, the Chinese government’s China Oceanic Information Network said devices would gather information about the seabed and explore its chemistry, physics and biology. Lin said research devices were deployed in disputed waters because the Yellow Sea and Bohai Gulf near China are not as deep as some other parts of the South China Sea.

He said the research will someday be “very helpful” for finding minerals. But he does not think it will help find oil. That is because oil and gas usually come from under continental shelves and slopes rather than ocean floors.

China needs to find new natural resources for its 1.37 billion people and for its economy, which depends on manufacturing for its growth. Experts say China’s economy will grow 6.7 percent this year. China needs cleaner-burning fuel to help it reduce the air pollution from the burning of coal.

Lin also told VOA that information gathered by the researchers would not be used to strengthen the military. China’s military operates mostly in secret. It has been increasing its control of some small islands in the South China Sea.

China has angered other countries that claim parts of the sea by creating artificial islands for military use. It also sails coast guard ships through the areas China says it controls.

FILE: Construction is shown on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, the disputed South China Sea, in this June 16, 2017, satellite image released by CSIS to Reuters.
FILE: Construction is shown on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, the disputed South China Sea, in this June 16, 2017, satellite image released by CSIS to Reuters.

Outside observers question China’s aim

Observers outside China believe the research is a way for China to strengthen its claim over the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea.

Oh Ei Sun, an international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University, says “there is an economic aim” to China’s research. Oh adds that China’s research to “is an act of exhibiting sovereignty.”

Fabrizio Bozzato is an expert in Asian politics at the Taiwan Strategy Research Association. He agrees that the deep-sea research is a way for China “to enhance its soft power” and also to mark its territory in the disputed waters.

I’m Anne Ball.

Ralph Jennings reported this story from Taipei. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

to some extent – expression used to indicate the degree to which something exists, happens, or is true

sovereign – n. a country’s independent authority and the right to govern itself

exhibit – v. to show or reveal (something)

enhance – v. to increase or improve (something)

soft power – expression a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence.

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