MANILA, Philippines — China was reportedly planning to build an undersea complex for its scientific and defense operations in the disputed South China Sea, and the Manila trench had been earmarked as one of the possible sites.
Citing officials and scientists involved in the plan, the South China Morning Post reported on November 26 that the project would involve the construction of a deep sea base for unmanned submarines. The planned undersea outpost would run through artificial intelligence.
“Robot submarines will be sent to survey seabeds, record life forms for cataloguing and collect mineral samples. As a self-contained laboratory, the station will analyse those samples and send reports to the surface,” the report read in part.
The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.
The quake-prone Manila trench is an active fault some 100 kilometers away from the West Philippine Sea from Bolinao, Pangasinan, west of Dagupan City across the Lingayen Gulf.
Ties between the Philippines and China have significantly improved under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has set aside a landmark ruling from a United Nations-backed tribunal that struck down Beijing’s “Nine Dash line” claim that encompasses most of the resource-rich sea.
Duterte’s management of the maritime dispute has frustrated nationalists, who criticized his seeming inaction towards China’s military buildup in the strategic waterway.
Besides China and the Philippines, Asian neighbors Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have active claims in the South China Sea, which is widely seen as a potential regional flash point.
According to South China Morning Post, Beijing “might share data and technology with neighbors to win their support.”
On November 1, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that Beijing had started operating a maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory, and a national environmental and air quality monitoring stations on the Spratly Islands.