China’s State Oceanic Administration announced plans for two new Antarctic research bases last week. The stations, due to be completed by 2015, will bring the number of Chinese installations on the continent to five. From Xinhua:
A summer station that can be used from December to March will be set up between the existing Zhongshan and Kunlun Stations to provide replenishment and other logistical support, the SOA said.
The station will be used to study geology, glaciers, geomagnetism and atmospheric science in Antarctica.
A perennial station will also be built in Victoria Land in Antarctica by 2015. The station will allow researchers to carry out multi-disciplinary research on bio-ecology and satellite remote sensing, according to the SOA.
A recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted that Antarctica received 80% of all China’s polar resources, despite much greater buzz about its plans for the Arctic. At Current Intelligence last week (via Zhan Li), Clive Schofield challenged the “myths and misconceptions” surrounding predicted diplomatic confrontation, resource exploitation and shipping revolution in the warming Arctic. At the Oxford University Press blog, on the other hand, Klaus Dodds laid out five “inconvenient truths” about the Antarctic. Contrary to the popular perception of a pristinely protected penguin reservation, he argued, the southern continent is “deeply disputed” territory already under threat from commercial and mineral exploitation.
The fifth and final inconvenient truth is that there is a growing anxiety about the role of China in Antarctica. While everyone associated with the Antarctic Treaty System is eager to emphasize the consensual nature of decision making and scientific co-operation in the field, there is a worry that a new phalanx of countries led by China, and including Brazil, India and Korea, is going to challenge the political and scientific hegemony previously enjoyed by an alliance involving the United States, Europe and countries such as Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, the media has been full of stories about China’s growing polar footprint – bases, networks and place names. The Antarctic map is being changed as Chinese, Indian and Korean place names lie adjacent to Euro-American naming traditions.
So by all means enjoy the nature programs and continue to revel in the exploits of past explorers and their contemporary avatars but be aware that the geopolitics of the Antarctic is lively. This icy wilderness is being claimed, coveted, exploited by a growing numbers of nations.