China breaks national record for Mariana Trench manned-dive amid race for deep sea resources

In an undated photo, manned submersible Fendouzhe is filmed being put into sea.

China has broken its own record for deepest manned dive into the world's oceans, sinking an estimated 10,909 meters (35,790 feet) into the Mariana Trench, state-run news agency Xinhua said.

The submersible, named "fendouzhe," or "striver," landed on the sea bed at the bottom of the deepest oceanic trench on Earth on Tuesday morning, Xinhua said, after setting off from China's Hainan province one month earlier.

The dive beat China's previous dive into the Mariana Trench by over 800 meters (2,624 feet) but it narrowly missed out on breaking a world record for the deepest dive in the Mariana Trench.

The current world record is believed to have been set by American undersea explorer Victor Vescovo, who claimed to have reached a depth of 10,927 meters (35,853 feet) in May 2019.

But China's goals for the dive aren't just scientific investigation. Ye Cong, the chief designer of the submersible, told Chinese state-run media that the seabed was abundant with resources.

High-tech diving equipment can help us better draw a "treasure map" of the deep sea, Ye said in an interview quoted by Xinhua.

In a commentary on the dive, posted to the official WeChat account of the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the ruling Communist's Party official mouthpiece, the author said that deep-sea exploration was important to better understand the "international strategic landscape."

"For example, Japan recently discovered rare earth resources in the Pacific Ocean, where the recoverable reserves are said to be 1,000 times more than on land. The ocean floor is a whole new world. If we don't explore this world, others will explore it," the commentary said.

Rare earths, which are essential for the production of high-tech products such as smartphones, missile systems and radar, are currently controlled in a major part by China.

Beijing is working hard to ensure it retains its dominance in this area. In July, the Chinese government raised its quota for rare earth mining to a record high, as high as 140,000 tonnes (140 million kilograms).

According to the state-owned China Daily newspaper, Chinese businesses have been investing in rare earth companies in Greenland as economic opportunities emerge in the Arctic region.

But it is facing heavy competition from countries around the world.

In 2018, Japanese researchers made what was described as a "game changing" find on its small island of Minamitori in the Pacific Ocean, where millions of tons of extremely valuable rare earths were discovered in nearby deep sea mud.

That same year, Reuters reported that India was prepared to spend more than $1 billion over a decade to search huge areas of sea floor for any sign of rare earths or minerals which could potentially be extracted.

The International Seabed Authority was due to agree on a mining code in mid-2020, with China just one of many nations lining up to explore and mine the seafloor, but as of October there was no final agreement.

Additional reporting by CNN's Beijing bureau.

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