China Unveils New Antarctic Base.
By Matt Peterson, on ,
In a briefing for WPR last month, Anne-Marie Brady, editor-in-chief of the Polar Journal, outlines the impact of China’s Antarctic expansion, which also includes a newly announced fifth station. She writes:
The proposed new station, expected to be completed in 2016, will consolidate China's Antarctic interests and help make China a leading contender in polar affairs; less than 10 years ago the country was only a minor player in the polar regions. Although China's annual polar operation budget of around $60 million has in the past limited it to being only a medium polar power, China now has more money to spend on new infrastructure such as bases, planes and icebreakers than any other state.But Brady stresses that this competition is not purely zero-sum. All this new infrastructure spending could benefit other countries’ operations on the continent as well as China’s:
By sharing its infrastructure, China could greatly enhance others’ logistical capabilities as well as its own. In the 2012-2013 season, for example, the U.S. McMurdo ice air field could not operate at capacity due to ice melting too quickly. This trend is likely to accelerate with climate change, threatening the viability of the U.S. Antarctic program and the other Antarctic programs it cooperates with. China’s state-of-the-art logistics capacity would also be a welcome addition.
The greater question, though, is about the long run. The governing Antarctic Treaty System is fast growing out of date; in a feature from March 2013, Brady calls it an “antiquated gentleman’s agreement desperately in need of reform.” She explains:
In many ways the term “Antarctic governance” is in fact a misnomer. There is very little oversight of the various countries active there, and almost no enforcement through Antarctic Treaty System instruments when nations break the governance rules. Instead Antarctic Treaty states are supposed to police themselves by passing national legislation that matches the Antarctic Treaty and by applying this legislation to the activities of their nationals there.
In this context of weak governance, then, one upside of China's maneuvering may be greater media focus on an issue where attention has been sorely lacking.