Linking the South China Sea and the Arctic Ocean

When Russia planted a flag on the Arctic Ocean seabed in August 2007, it was in part, political theater meant to cement its claim to the region’s vast natural resources (especially mineral).   Of course, such action served as a shot across the bow of the other states bordering the region, leading, among other actions, to a 2008 joint Canadadian-Danish geologic study that supports Canada’s claim to the Lomonosov Ridge as a natural extension of the North American continent and as such, a significant portion of the Arctic seabed.   While the five nations with competing claims have agreed to work under UNCLOS through the aegis of the Arctic Council (founded in 1996), there has been an increase in military presence (primarily Russian) in recent months and something of an information campaign as well.

All of this is pretext to an event in the South China Sea that occurred earlier this summer – but only recently announced:

A Chinese submarine planted a national flag deep on the floor of the South China Sea during a test dive last month to reinforce China’s territorial claim, the boat’s designer said yesterday.

The State Oceanic Administration and Ministry of Science and Technology jointly announced yesterday that a Chinese scientific submarine with three civilian crew members had explored unknown terrain at a depth of more than 3,700 metres at the heart of the South China Sea. Before resurfacing, they planted a Chinese flag on the ocean floor.

The motivation of such as pretty clear:

“We were inspired by the Russians, who put a flag on the floor of the North Pole with their MIR [deep sea submarine],” said Zhao, an engineer at the China Ship Scientific Research Centre, who designed the hull of the submarine. “It might provoke some countries, but we’ll be all right. The South China Sea belongs to China. Let’s see who dares to challenge that.”

Brave words indeed from an engineer associated with the project (but one presumes they would not have made it into circulation without the tacit approval of the Chinese government) – but it doesn’t end there.   Being as how there was nowhere near the Chinese coast to test the deep sea submersible’s operating depth of up to 7,000 meters (greater than the Russian Mir and similar Western subs, as claimed by the Chinese maker), it was tested close to the Philippines:

“The closer to Philippines, the deeper the sea. We will put down national flags all the way until we reach their border,” Zhao said. “And then we will go beyond and aim for the Mariana Trench.”

Oh yes — and one other “small” item all the way at the end of the article:

The Sea Dragon needs the support of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to Zhao. “The navy has escorted all our previous missions and I think they will continue to do so,” he said. “The further we go, the more we need guns to protect ourselves.”

Which itself, brings to mind something we noted in an earlier post

The timing of the announcement and subsequent revelation in the open press (e.g., South China Morning Post – 27 August 2010 (registration/subscription may be required to read))   obviously follows on the heels of China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea.   The rub of it is, however, that in so doing their goal of keeping the US marginalized and the other nations bordering the SCS divided becomes harder to obtain.   The US has already stated that the competing clams over the resources in the sea and on the seabed of the SCS should be handled in a multi-lateral forum – one thinks something similar to the afore-mentioned Arctic Council, which would be anathema to the Chinese who, ironically enough, have obtained observer status on the Arctic Council.   And that item, brings us back to the Arctic where China has asserted a right for access to the mineral wealth on par with the perimeter nations.   Giving substance to the claim is a research station established in Norway and deployment of a Russian-built, nuclear-powered icebreaker on a semi-permanent basis.

So, here’s an observation — Russia has laid clam to a vast amount of the Arctic and may well end up with a majority share of said resources.   Claim, however, is one thing, the ability to access and exploit another — and the current state of Russian industry and technology to exploit the mineral resources of the region is questionable.   The US and Canada have the technological capability, but one wonders about the commitment of the US and the capacity of Canada – which leads us to look at a possible Russo-Chinese joint venture — hard currency for Russia from sales abroad of liquid and mineral resources and guaranteed access to same by a resource hungry China.   All without any expectation of China stepping back from its increasingly aggressive posture in the SCS.

…things that make you go, hmmm…

Update; See also Eagle1 and ‘Phib  posts this subject as well as this weekend’s blogtalk radio’s coverage of the same.