A Chinese submersible that last month set a new national record will dive in the South China Sea next year, state media said Tuesday, as Beijing asserts its claim over the resource-rich area.
The mission is "part of the preparations for future commercial mining of the seabed", the China Daily quoted the China Ocean Mineral Resources and Research Association as saying.
The South China Sea, which extends from China's South Coast towards several Southeast Asian countries, is a flashpoint for territorial disputes between China and its neighbours.
China claims the entirety of the sea on historical grounds, but Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines dispute this.
Tensions in the South China Sea have risen recently, with China and the Philippines locked in a maritime dispute over the Scarborough Shoal, a reef off the Philippine coast.
The China Daily said the "Jiaolong", China's most technologically advanced manned submersible, would conduct the mission next April and May, after it reached depths of over 7,000 metres in the Pacific Ocean last month.
The craft gives China the ability to explore 99 percent of the world's seabeds, the China Daily said.
Its first mission in the area aims to study the "formation and evolution" of the South China Sea bed, the China Daily reported.
Chinese researchers estimate that the South China Sea holds more than 213 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to at least 80 percent of Saudi Arabia's reserves.
Those deposits are an enticing prospect for China, the world's largest energy consumer, which relies on imports to meet over half of its oil needs.