China tries to lure India with deep sea mining deal in Indian Ocean

Saibal Dasgupta | Times of India

China has come up with a sweetheart deal to break through India’s resistance to its attempt to access the Indian Ocean. It is offering India an opportunity to participate in joint seabed mining in the ocean, which has strong potential of yielding expensive minerals.

“China and India are both developing countries and contractors with the International Seabed Authority, so we have a lot in common and plenty of opportunities for further cooperation,” said He Zongyu, deputy director of the China Ocean Mineral Resource R&D Association.

The offer comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to China starting May 14. The issue is likely to figure in the official level talks.

China is looking towards India for accessing the Indian Ocean because it feels that Sri Lanka cannot be fully relied upon for this task. The new government in Sri Lanka has suspended work on two Chinese funded projects including the construction of port city of Colombo, which had been contracted by the previous government.

The offer of joint seabed exploration was made recently by Chen Lianzeng, deputy director of China’s State Oceanic Administration, who visited India on April 20. He also suggested the two countries enhance cooperation on oceanic research and development.

India is an ideal partner because the two countries are almost at the same level in terms of the development of deep seabed mining, He said.

“If we cooperate, we could share the costs, the risks and the benefits,” He said.

Though called “association”, it is really an official body enthrusted with the task of exploration and development of ocean floor and subsoil.

India may have to consider not just the risks of allowing access to the Indian Ocean but the fact that deep seabed mining is an extremely expensive business. The cost for one mining site is upwards of $1.6 billion, according to He.

Besides accessing the Indian Ocean, China wants New Delhi to give up its plans for joint exploration for oil with Vietnam in a portion of the South China Sea, which China claims as its own territory. China has been opposing this part of India-Vietnam relationship for a long time.

China won a contract from the International Seabed Authority for a polymetallic sulfides exploration area of 10,000 square kilometers in the southwest Indian Ocean in 2011. It has also signed two contracts for exploration areas in the Pacific Ocean.

“But the rich findings in the Indian Ocean make this area a focus for China’s future work,” the official Xinhua news agency said.

Last March, a Chinese manned deepsea submersible Jiaolong finished a 118-day expedition in the Indian Ocean. It discovered several new hydrothermal vents-deep-sea fissures that emit hot water. The findings could help research into resources and environments of seafloor sulfide deposits that contain various metals, Xinhua said.

China also sent research vessel Dayang Yihao making it the first time that two major oceanic research facilities working in the Indian Ocean at the same time.

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