Tag Archives: Antarctica

China in Antarctica: the value of flagpoles

antarctica flags

Over the past two decades China’s annual Antarctic spending has tripled to $55m, three times its Arctic investment… The Southern Ocean is full of fish. A large petroleum field was recently discovered in West Antarctica. The continent also has deposits of coal and other valuable minerals. The Protocol on Environmental Protection, a document signed in Madrid in 1991 by countries involved in Antarctica, has imposed a mining ban until 2048, when it is to be reviewed.

China acceded in 1983 to the Antarctic Treaty, which maintains the continent as a demilitarised science preserve and forms the basis of a system of governance. The goal of its current five-year polar plan, says Chen Lianzeng of China’s State Oceanic Administration, is to increase the country’s status and influence. On November 7th China’s 30th Antarctic expedition, complete with construction crew, set sail from Shanghai. It will scout a site for China’s fifth station, in Terra Nova Bay. Its fourth base, Taishan, is still unfinished.

Sovereignty in Antarctica is disputed. States assert themselves by building bases. “You put a huge flag on a flagpole close to the research station,” says Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at the University of London. “It is not very subtle.” If China builds all five planned stations it will have more than either Britain or Australia, and only one fewer than America.

Science matters, too. It gives cachet and influence in matters of joint governance. In 2008 China built Kunlun station, a base with capabilities for deep-space research in a place so remote that it took six attempts to get there. The ice underneath could help scientists work out the climatic record of the past 1.5m years, which would be a scientific coup.But the influx of new Antarctic actors has rattled the old establishment and its former scientific hegemony. “China is saying, ‘We don’t give a damn about Shackleton, Scott, all these white European heroes. You can keep that. What we’re interested in is the future,” says Mr Dodds. The Chinese have raised even more concerns by giving Chinese names to more than 350 places, including Great Wall Bay.  Chinese scholars call the Antarctic Treaty a “rich man’s club”, in which China has only second-class citizenship—with some justification, says Ms Brady, since the choicest spots for research stations were snapped up by the first countries to arrive. Publicly, though, China buries its grumbles and complies with protocol. An inspection regime installed by the treaty is ineffectual, and there is little check on states’ affairs.

Meanwhile, the exploitation of Antarctic resources may come sooner than predicted. At a recent meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, delegates from 24 countries failed to agree on proposals for two marine protected areas. Plans for the reserves have been discussed for decades, but consensus was required and China, Russia and Ukraine withdrew their support. If Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are to remain some of the planet’s last unspoilt wilderness, an updated framework is needed, and quickly.

Antarctic research: They may be some time, Economist, Nov. 16, 2013, at 50

Antarctica: Environment and Geopolitics

antarctica. image from wikipedia

The meeting  (week of July 14, 2013)of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) offers a “unique opportunity” for representatives of 24 countries and the European Union to…  designate the world’s largest marine reserves  Nature conservation is also a question of geopolitical interests — an arena in which no country wants to lose influence. The countries at the meeting are those active in Antarctica, in either a business or scientific capacity. So far, two opposing camps have remained insistent on their positions.

On the one side, the Western nations have proposed marine reserves. The United States and New Zealand are proposing to protect the Ross Sea area along Antarctica’s east coast. In some areas, fishing would be banned; in other areas, strict limits would be imposed. But China, Japan, Ukraine, Norway and and Russia, in particular, have shown little interest in an agreement. All have considerable business interests in the region.

Norwegian ships also catch vast quantities of krill off the coast of Antarctica to feed large salmon farms back home. The government in Oslo has little interest in major marine reserves on the southern continent. Norway has considerable influence, as well. The CCAMLR negotiations in Oslo are being led by Terje Løbach, an official at the Norwegian Fisheries Ministry. At the last CCAMLR meeting in Australia, his country was among those that offered the most adamant resistance to creating marine reserves. Participants claim Løbach used his advantage as the leader of the meeting to further the positions of his government rather than seek compromises. The conference in Australia ultimately failed to reach any agreement…

Russian representatives, for example, are leading the opposition against the US-New Zealand proposal for a marine protection area in the Ross Sea area. New Zealand and the US are proposing fishing quotas for the 2.3 million-square-kilometer area. But the Russians feel they have been cheated in the considerations. “They fear that the bear skin will be divided up without them,” one participant said.

Antarctica Conference: Deal Could Preserve Pristine Waters, Associated Press, July 15, 2013