From The Japan Times:
China raises undersea ante
Nestled on the deck of its mother ship, China's most advanced deep-sea submersible is on its way to the depths of the central Pacific Ocean in a program that is being closely watched in Asia and the West for its mining and military potential as well as its scientific research.
The Jiaolong, named after a mythical dragon, is designed to be the world's deepest-diving manned submersible. The support ship is carrying the undersea craft and its three crew members to waters between southeastern Hawaii and North America where it will attempt to plunge 5,000 meters below the surface of the Pacific, exceeding its 3,759-meter dive in the South China Sea last year.
The submersible has a special titanium hull to withstand the crushing pressures of the deep ocean. If the current expedition is successful, the craft is expected to try operating close to its maximum depth of about 7,000 meters in 2012, making it capable of reaching the bottom of almost all the world's sea areas.This would elevate China to the top of an exclusive club of deep-sea submersible operators, putting it ahead of Japan, Russia, France and the United States.
China says one of its main aims is to be in prime position to explore and exploit what experts say is a treasure trove of trillions of dollars of gold, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, manganese, cobalt, iron and other minerals in rich reserves on the seabed of the ocean, which covers more than two-thirds of Earth's surface with an average depth of 4,000 metres.
Sustained rapid growth of China's economy requires access to ever more resources. Chinese leaders are looking to the oceans and seabed as a key frontier for the future, in case supplies on land run short or are withheld in a crisis. Some seabed deposits are also richer than those on land, among them deposits of gold, which is currently fetching near record prices, and cobalt, used to make corrosion-resistant light, strong metal alloys and paints....MORE