Objectives and Prospects of Opening China’s Fifth Research Station in Antarctica

Strategic Council Online - Opinion: In recent years, with the increase of China's power, it is clearly possible to see this country's activism strengthening in different regions of the world. A clear example is Beijing's activities in Antarctica. Although China has set up four research stations in Antarctica in the last few decades, the opening of the fifth station can be important. Mohammad Javad Ghahramani - China issues expert

Despite China’s decades of activity in Antarctica, that is, since 1983, when the country joined the Antarctic Treaty System, some countries close to the polar regions, as well as Western countries, are skeptical about China’s goals. Tensions and competition between China and the United States have made Washington determined to present a negative image of China’s intentions in various areas and regions and bring partners together to confront Beijing. The range of competition is not limited to geographical zones; it can also be seen in the field of new technologies, space, etc. In such a situation, both sides, while expanding their capacities, try to turn their narrative of developments into the dominant narrative.

In addition, some developments in China’s policies have not affected increasing attention to this country’s policies in polar regions. China has actually paid more attention to this region since Xi Jinping came to power. For the first time in 2015, the term “great polar power” was proposed by Xi Jinping, and the country published the Arctic policy document in 2018. In addition, the White Paper on China’s Activities in Antarctica was released at the 40th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in May 2017, which was held in Beijing for the first time.

China pursues different goals from the development of activities in Antarctica. First, the mere activity in the polar regions can be a symbol of this country becoming the world’s top power. In this sense, China is now seeking to be recognized as a superior power by others, regardless of its material achievements, by being present in the polar regions. Certainly, the development of Beijing’s scientific activities in this area will be helpful in this matter.

China is aware that with new developments, including the development of new technologies, the terms and content of previous treaties and agreements regarding Antarctica may no longer be suitable for the new conditions as well as the conditions that will emerge in the future. In this way, Beijing does not want to stay away from possible new agreements or regulations regarding activities in this geographical area.

Another issue is that although the 1998 Madrid Protocol on the protection of the Antarctic environment prohibits all activities related to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research, but considering that the period of 50 years (until 2048) for the change or adjustment in it will be determined by the agreement of all the members. By developing scientific activities, Beijing will prepare itself for any change in this protocol and the possibility of allowing extractive activities in this area after this period.

The possibility of China’s regulatory activities should also be added to these goals. China’s new research station, Qinling, is located in southern Australia and New Zealand, enabling Beijing to collect information from these countries. This issue will become more possible with the advancement of new technologies.

In general, at the same time as the West intends to exert pressure on China, this country will continue its struggle to play a role in Antarctica. This will be a card that Beijing can use in its relations with the United States and interested countries in the region. Meanwhile, the development of China’s activities will mean that this country will turn itself into an activist that will prevent any change in the way of activities in the region, including through possible new regimes, without considering the considerations of this country.

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