Winter 2024 | Publication

Deep-Sea Minerals: The Next Arena of U.S.-China Competition

Executive Summary

  1. China has implemented aggressive industrial policies to capture a leading position in deep-sea mining.  This report identifies 29 Chinese entities that are involved in a constellation of research institutes, universities, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), government agencies, and other entities dedicated to the development of China’s deep-sea mining industry.  These entities are securing contracts at the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing advanced deep-sea technology, and executing extensive deep-sea operations.
  2. China’s access to domestic deep-sea minerals is constrained by geography and international regulation.  While America has the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), China’s EEZ is only the 33rd largest.  To address this disadvantage, China is heavily prioritizing efforts to shape debates at the ISA and  expand its de facto EEZ through civilian and military infrastructure projects in the South and East China Seas.
  3. A Chinese-led deep-sea mining industry would threaten U.S. primacy in the Pacific.  A surge in deep-sea mineral extraction throughout the Pacific would pit the maritime capabilities of both countries against each other and open new theaters of economic and military competition.  By weakening U.S partnerships with Pacific Island nations, disrupting maritime traffic, and exposing growing vulnerabilities in U.S. maritime power, expanded Chinese operations would signal the end of the post-World War Two status quo in the Pacific.
  4. U.S. leadership in deep-sea mining and mineral processing would boost America’s industrial economy.  The looming gap between demand for critical minerals and the supply from terrestrial mines – compounded by global dependency on China – threatens American companies across a range of sectors.  In response, the U.S. government can capitalize on the latent potential of deep-sea minerals to transform mineral supply chains and, in the process, enable U.S. firms to unlock opportunities that were not viable in the past.

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