Canada has placed four Chinese monitoring devices just 186 miles away from the US coast, near a major waterway used by a US nuclear submarine base, reports SCMP. The sensors were placed on the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge by a remote controlled Canadian Coast Guard submersible on June 27, and are now fully operational.
The instruments, which use hi-tech sensors to monitor the underwater environment, are connected to the Ocean Network Canada (ONC), a grid of marine observatories stretching from the northeast Pacific to the Arctic. While the network is operated by the University of Victoria in British Columbia, its four new additions are the property of the Sanya Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering, a unit of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which also developed and built them. -SCMP
Data from the sensors can be streamed in real-time to the Chinese institute's control center in the city of Sanya, located on the island province of Hainan.
While there is no indication that the devices will be used to spy on the United States, both Canada and Beijing have refused to say what they're for, while the US State Department said it had "nothing to say" on the matter.
What is known is that information collected by the devices will help Chinese marine scientists better understand the environment of a strategic waterway close to the United States, and get a close look at the structure and operation of one of the world’s largest and most advanced underwater observatories.
While there is no evidence to suggest China’s military is involved with the project – there is also no suggestion the devices can be used to track submarines or other vessels – maritime environmental data is equally valuable to both civilian and non-civilian researchers.
Some Chinese government research websites have suggested the positioning of the monitoring devices could be a precursor to China building its own network in the region. -SCMP
ONC is primarily a research facility, however it does maintain a defense contract with the Canadian military monitor Arctic waters using an AI-powered surveillance system, according to state broadcaster CBC.
As SCMP notes, "the Strait of Juan de Fuca is one of the world’s busiest waterways. Across the strait to the south, not far from the city of Seattle, is one of the United States’ two strategic nuclear weapon facilities – Naval Base Kitsap – which is home to a nuclear submarine shipyard and the only dry dock on the country’s west coast capable of accommodating a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier."
"Deep sea observation networks are highly sensitive, and closely related to national security," says Chen Hongqiao - a researcher for the Centre for Canadian Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou. "Countries don’t open them up to third parties unless there is a high level of trust and confidence."
"Such collaboration is very unusual. The implications go far beyond science, [so] it could have only happened with a nod from the top on both sides."