Deep-sea mining is attaining increasing strategic importance for China and its neighbours.
China controls around 95% of valuable rare earth mineral supplies, but India’s recent moves to join the international deep-sea mining race have provided a new challenge to China’s monopoly over valuable minerals beneath the sea, say Scidev
India is building a rare earth mineral processing plant in its east coast Orissa state, spending around US$135 million to buy a new exploration ship and to retool another ship for sophisticated deep-water exploration off its coast.
Aside from the battle for valuable natural resources, deep-sea mining also has significant environmental ramifications.
Initially, the deep sea was thought to be full of soft sediment and little else. However, the discovery of hydrothermal vents on the seabed – thought to be the ‘cradle of life on earth
‘ – which produce the deposits that are excavated, has highlighted a unique ecosystem unreliant on photosynthesis.
Environmentalists, such as Dr Rod Fujita, from the Environmental Defense Fund
, say deep-sea mining should be restricted to protect the loss of precious deep sea ecosystem.
As well as India’s expanding investment, Japan has also provided a challenge to China.
In June 2012, Japan opened the Rare Earth Research and Technology Transfer Centre in Hanoi, in partnership with Vietnam, reports The Guardian
. Moreover, according to The Wall Street Journal
, Japan is also negotiating with India over investments in the Orissa Processing Plant. This may well add to the tensions between China and Japan over resources in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
With the World Trade Organisation currently investigating China’s influence in the rare-earth minerals market following complaints from the US, Japan and the EU, the recent deep sea mining developments from China’s geopolitical competitors presents a new development we should watch with interest.