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China’s Ambitious Plan to Dominate the Deep Sea and its Hidden Geopolitical Implications

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In a quiet but relentless push for dominance in the world’s oceans, China is setting its sights on the deep sea, and the vast wealth of rare minerals it contains. This mission is not just about securing natural resources but also establishing strategic advantages in next-generation technologies, including advanced weapons systems. As the world focuses on terrestrial resource competition, the ocean floor is emerging as the next theater of global rivalry, and China is positioning itself to become the unrivaled leader.

China’s deep-sea expedition vessels, like the 5,100-ton Dayang Hao, are embarking on missions to claim exclusive rights to prospect for polymetallic nodules on the ocean floor. These nodules are treasure troves of manganese, cobalt, nickel, and copper—essential metals for a range of applications, from electric cars to advanced weaponry. With these resources lying tantalizingly on the ocean floor, China is aggressively pursuing deep-sea mining as the world’s demand for these minerals, driven by efforts to combat climate change, continues to surge.

China currently holds five of the thirty exploration licenses granted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), more than any other country. These licenses position China to commence deep-sea mining as early as 2025, granting it exclusive rights to excavate an area larger than the United Kingdom, covering 92,000 square miles of international seabed. This move effectively secures China’s chokehold over emerging industries such as clean energy.

China’s dominance in seabed mining would be a game-changer. With control over rare-earth metals and the lion’s share of lithium-ion battery production, China would gain an even more significant edge in next-gen technologies. This newfound control could be weaponized, as seen when China restricted the exports of crucial metals for U.S. defense systems. Carla Freeman, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace, noted that if China leads in seabed mining, it would control access to key minerals for the 21st-century green economy.

To achieve this, China is concentrating its efforts on influencing the ISA, headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica. With the United States not being a member of the ISA, Beijing wields immense power to shape international rules in its favor. This aligns with President Xi Jinping’s grand vision of a globally dominant China, no longer subservient to Western powers.

The United States, however, has been slow to respond to China’s deep-sea ambitions. Lacking exploration contracts with the ISA, U.S. companies have failed to establish a clear strategy to compete in this emerging industry. The result is that the U.S. risks being sidelined in the creation of rules governing deep-sea mining, a critical area in the great-power competition.

China’s systematic approach involves slowly building influence within the ISA, leveraging its financial contributions, hosting workshops, and even using the potent Chinese liquor baijiu to lubricate discussions. With an increasing number of Chinese nationals in critical positions within the ISA, including the secretariat, legal affairs commission, and financial committee, China is ensuring its voice is heard and its interests are prioritized.

This pursuit of deep-sea mining is not just about natural resources; it’s about redefining global order. China’s goal is to establish maritime supremacy and challenge the West’s dominance. With cutting-edge technology, research institutions, and advanced submersibles capable of diving to the deepest parts of the ocean, China is positioning itself as a leader in ocean exploration. This effort not only secures access to valuable minerals but also lays the foundation for military advantages in underwater warfare.

While the world’s attention remains focused on terrestrial resource competition, China is steadily and quietly marching toward dominance in the deep sea. As the global balance of power shifts, it’s imperative for other nations, especially the United States, to recognize the strategic significance of the ocean floor and formulate a coherent response to China’s ambitious plan. The ocean’s vast mineral wealth is at stake, and so is the future of geopolitics.

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