BEIJING - A manned Chinese submersible set a new record for the country's deepest sea dive Friday, over 6,000 metres, showing Beijing's technological ambitions as it also readies for its first manned space docking. The "Jiaolong" craft dived over 19,685 feet into the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, the first in a series of six dives which will plumb depths of 7,000 metres, the official Xinhua news agency said. The deep-sea dive push comes as China prepares to launch a spacecraft on Saturday to conduct its first manned space docking, as part of efforts to establish a permanent space station by 2020.
The submersible, which carried three men, reached around 6,500 metres with only a technical glitch in communications, state media said.
"In our first battle, we have already reached 6,500 metres. All of our tasks have been completed," chief commander Liu Feng told state television aboard the ship carrying the submersible.
He said a piece of communications equipment on the surface of the water failed, but the team switched to a back-up system and restored communications. He did not say whether contact was completely lost with the Jiaolong.
The same vessel - named after a dragon from Chinese mythology - reached 5,188 metres in a Pacific dive last July, the nation's previous record.
Friday's dive sparked outpourings of nationalism on the Internet and comparisons to the upcoming space launch.
"Three pilots will take the Jiaolong to attempt the 7,000-metre dive, while three astronauts will take the Shenzhou-9 to connect with the Heavenly Palace," a Shanghai based blogger wrote on his microblog.