BEIJING, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- China said Thursday it planted a Chinese flag 12,333 feet deep in the South China Sea, a huge water body to which seven other countries hold territorial claims.
A manned midget submarine -- similar to the submersible vessels used by marine scientists and entertainment-adventure companies -- completed 17 dives with three crew members from May 31 to July 18, with the deepest dive reaching 12,333 feet, said the State Oceanic Administration in a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
The sovereignty of the 648,000-square-mile sea -- the largest or second-largest body of water after the five oceans, depending on the method of measurement -- and its 200 mostly uninhabited islands is disputed, largely because the important shipping route is also valuable for its rich commercial fishing harvests and oil and natural gas fields.
Both China and Taiwan claim almost the entire sea as their own. Their claims overlap those of almost every other country in the region.
Countries claiming parts of the sea and its islands as theirs include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
None of the countries had any immediate comment on the Chinese flag planting, traditionally a symbol used to publicly mark or claim a territory.
Washington seeks a multilateral approach to resolving the disputes over the sea, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a regional forum in July.