"Having ventured to Australia to buy a coal company for $3.1 billion, to Guinea to lock up access to aluminum and diamonds and gold, and to Iraq to insure a big share of that country’s expected postwar oil production—all last year—Chinese companies and government-supported funds have shown that they will go to the ends of the earth to acquire the resources needed to stoke their country’s industrial growth. Now China is angling to be first to exploit a source of minerals that has tempted and frustrated dreamers for almost 150 years: the floor of the deep sea.
In May an arm of the Chinese government submitted plans to explore the seafloor around an underwater ridge in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar, where hot springs in the ocean bottom called hydrothermal vents have created deposits containing gold, silver, copper, nickel, cobalt, and tellurium (used in computers, CDs, and DVDs). The filing came on the first day that the International Seabed Authority, the United Nations agency set up to manage seafloor mining in international waters, accepted exploration plans; as land-based sources of precious metals run dry, China will surely have company. It is no small irony that the first would-be undersea ’49ers made their move in the midst of BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster, but not for the reason one might think. Just as the reality of the BP spill has, so far, fallen short of the marine Armageddon some green groups predicted, so the actual environmental damage from mining the seafloor looks as though it might, too. If so, nothing is likely to stand in China’s way as it stakes its undersea claims."
Sharon Begley reports for Newsweek September 20, 2010.