Home Commodities China and Russia question US claim to mineral-rich stretches of seabed

China and Russia question US claim to mineral-rich stretches of seabed

by SuperiorInvest

China and Russia are challenging U.S. claims to a swath of mineral-rich seabed because Washington has not ratified a treaty governing access to resources in international waters.

Chinese and Russian diplomats said last week that a US claim to an extended area of ​​the seabed was unacceptable given its position on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), according to three people who attended the meeting. a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica. of the International Seabed Authority, which was created under the treaty.

Hundreds of former US government officials and military officials recently wrote to Senate leaders urging the body to ratify UNCLOS. This would ensure that the United States can extract critical minerals from the ocean floor once the ISA has agreed on regulations for deep-sea exploration, which could come next year.

Among the signatories were former Democratic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Republican Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence and retired admiral.

The objections from China and Russia came after the United States said in December it would extend its jurisdiction over a resource-rich area of ​​seabed that makes up its continental shelf. The sprawling area is twice the size of California and encompasses regions including the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and other regions.

A person familiar with the situation said the United States and other countries had the right to expand their continental shelves under international law. She said the Chinese and Russian delegations at the ISA conference expressed opposition, prompting a rebuttal from the US delegation, which only has observer status because Washington has not ratified UNCLOS.


Rebecca Pincus, director of the Wilson Center's Polar Institute, said the criticism was likely due to competition for seafloor resources, such as minerals and also undersea cables. “It is a war, part of the politics of the great powers. . . and an opportunity to be disruptive,” she said.

The tensions come as the Biden administration faces domestic pressure to compete with China in deep-sea mining ahead of a long-awaited Pentagon report on the sourcing and processing of seabed metals ordered by Congress.

The push to ratify UNCLOS, which is spearheaded by Blair, comes more than a decade after a previous effort to get the Senate to act. Ratification requires the support of two-thirds of the 100 senators. Any effort to pass the treaty will almost certainly evaporate if Donald Trump wins the US presidential election.

Concern has also increased as the United States worries about China's efforts to obtain more senior positions in international organizations and take advantage of situations, such as in the case of UNCLOS, where the United States has less power.

Negroponte, who also served as Director of National Intelligence, said Chinese efforts to push expansive and illegal claims in the South China Sea in recent years have given further impetus to the need to ratify UNCLOS. He said China had already registered five mineral-rich ocean sites with the ISA, which the United States cannot join unless it ratifies UNCLOS.

China maintains that its claims to the South China Sea are justified by the “long course of history” and has refused to recognize a 2016 arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines' maritime territorial claims under UNCLOS.

“We have already lost two of the four sites originally designated for us in the UNCLOS negotiation, each site worth an estimated $1 trillion in copper, nickel, cobalt, manganese and rare earths,” Negroponte said. “Unless we come together soon, we risk losing our two remaining designated sites.”

Companies wishing to explore for minerals in international waters must apply to the ISA with the support of a member state. Failure to ratify the Convention means that the United States cannot sponsor licenses. He has been on the sidelines of meetings that continued through Friday among the ISA's 169 members to discuss whether commercial mining should continue at scale.

Failing to license deep-sea minerals could leave the United States at the “mercy” of China's attempt to dominate the global supply of battery metals, Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman, Republican vice chairman of the utilities committee, told the Financial Times. armed members of the House of Representatives. Times.

“China and Russia are aggressively laying claim to the minerals in those funds. . . “We can’t let that happen,” Wittman said.

José Fernández, a senior State Department official, told the Financial Times last month that China's attempt to dominate the supply chain for critical onshore and offshore minerals created a joint “vulnerability” for Washington. He said they were trying to do in underwater mining what they had done in land mining, which was to “gain greater control of critical minerals for the future.”

The Metals Company, a Nasdaq-listed, Vancouver-based company that is at the forefront of efforts to mine the Pacific seafloor, has been lobbying U.S. lawmakers for supportive measures, including federal funding for a proposed mineral processing plant on the Texas coast.

“The opportunity for the United States is to welcome companies like ours. The risk is that they don't do it and other markets like China do,” said CEO Gerard Barron.

One option being explored by Oliver Gunasekara, CEO of US-based Impossible Metals, is to recover minerals from the country's own territorial waters off the coast of American Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean.

World map showing the three main types of seafloor mineral deposits and the places where they are concentrated.

“What people often don't remember is that there are these [metallic] nodules in US waters,” he said. A study published last year also pointed to possible deposits in the US exclusive economic zone near California, Alaska, Hawaii and off its southeastern coast.

A question remains about the extent to which a global marine mining industry would need the support of states to compete on costs with land-based mining.

Proponents of deep-sea mining would also have to overcome staunch opposition from environmental groups, who argue that exploitation of the seafloor could harm marine ecosystems, including rare species that have evolved to survive thousands of meters below the surface.

Additional reporting by Joe Leahy in Beijing

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