The South China Sea will be a "must-see region" in the scheduled global expedition of China's submersible Jiaolong, scientists said Tuesday.
The deep-sea crewed submersible, named after a mythical dragon, is scheduled to start a year-long global expedition in June 2020, Ding Zhongjun, deputy chief engineer at the national deep sea center in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The submersible will cover the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, while the South China Sea, which has a significant role in China's deep sea research, "will be a must-see region during the expedition," Ding said.
The South China Sea mission is expected to focus on exploring and sampling natural resources in the region, as well as environmental protection in the deep sea, he said.
The expedition also plans to provide technical support for research into natural gas hydrate in the South China Sea, said scientists.
Natural gas hydrate is an important potential replacement for oil and natural gas, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The southern South China Sea, especially along the nine-dash line that demarcates China's territorial claims, is rich in the resource.
China is promoting deep-sea research and technical cooperation with countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia in and around the South China Sea, Ding said.
Scientific research in the sea has become a significant approach for China to demonstrate its sovereignty, Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the Hainan-based National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times.
As the intensity of disagreement subdues in the South China Sea, countries surrounding the waters should seize the momentum to promote joint study and research, said Chen.
Jiaolong's global expedition includes more than 10 countries, most along the Belt and Road initiative route, Ding explained, and will promote regional exchanges on deep-sea research technologies.
China's leading technology and equipment enable first-hand data and give the country a bigger voice in global oceanic governance and research, Ding said.
Jiaolong is capable of diving in virtually all seas to a depth of less than 7,000 meters, scientists said.
Before the 2020 expedition, China will have the submersible upgraded and finish construction of a new mother ship.
The ship will likely carry China's unmanned Qianlong and Hailong deep-sea research submersibles and gather higher quality data over a larger area in a more efficient way, Ding said.
Hailong and Qianlong returned to the National Deep Sea Center on May 3 after completing 45-day sea trials.