The Celestial Empire is building a research center on the ice continent
China sent two of its icebreakers to Antarctica. The purpose of the expedition was the construction of a new research station on the rocky island of Inexpressible near the Ross Sea. This will be Beijing's fifth point in the Pacific sector of Antarctica. The five-month mission will also include research into the impact of climate change on the planet.
Two Chinese icebreakers, Xuelong-1 and “Xuelong 2 and the cargo ship departed on Wednesday, November 1, for Antarctica with more than 460 personnel on board. The fleet sailed from Shanghai to help complete construction of China's fifth station on the southernmost continent.
China's largest research vessels are called “Snow Dragons” and are designed to transport personnel and logistics. The cargo ship “Tianhui” — “Divine blessing” — loaded with construction materials for the station.
The new station will be used to conduct environmental research in the region, Chinese state television reported. She will be on the rocky, windswept Ineffable Island near the Ross Sea, a deep bay of the Southern Ocean named after the 19th-century British explorer.
The facility is expected to include an observatory with a satellite ground station and should help China “fill a serious gap” in the world. in its ability to access the continent, says a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The two icebreakers will also conduct environmental research in Prides Bay, the Cosmonaut Sea in southeast Antarctica, and the Ross and Amundsen in the west.
Media reports that this 40th Chinese mission to Antarctica will also cooperate with countries such as the US, UK and Russia in the field of logistics supplies.
< p>The station, as the expert notes, is also well located for collecting radio intelligence data from countries such as Australia and New Zealand, two members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance. with the USA, UK and Canada. There could also be equipment to monitor telemetry data from rockets launched from Australia's new Arnhem space centre. There, NASA plans to conduct at least 50 satellite and rocket launches per year by 2024. Let us recall that from there in July 2023, suorbital satellites were launched to “collect valuable scientific information about the physical nature of the Sun and carry out a number of other observations that can only be carried out in the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth.”
China denies assumptions about that its stations could be used for espionage purposes.
The mission also demonstrates Beijing's intentions towards Antarctica. Growing interest and investment in the region suggests to countries that China is aiming to become a leading player in the southernmost continent. Such signals give other interested countries pause.
Antarctica poses a massive barrier to shipping. This makes the mainland a non-naval interest. Thus, the icebreaker fleet is needed only for use for commercial or scientific purposes.
“There’s a lot going on in the world, most of it bad. It is hoped that Antarctica and its surrounding waterways will remain an exception to this trend,” — notes James Holmes, head of the department of maritime strategy at the US Naval War College.
The Chinese Ministry of Defense report for 2022 notes that “the country’s strategy in Antarctica includes the use of dual-use technologies, facilities and scientific research that “are probably intended, at least in part, to improve the People's Liberation Army of China.”
Recall that China has four research stations in Antarctica, built from 1985 to 2014. A US think tank estimates that the fifth could be completed in 2024. In February 2020, a group of American inspectors visited one of the existing stations, where they were met by station manager Wang Zhao from the Polar Research Institute of China. According to an inspection report released by the US State Department, they did not find any military equipment or personnel.
Under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, to which China is a party, activity on the continent is limited to “peaceful purposes.”
Military personnel are allowed to conduct scientific research, but they cannot establish bases, test weapons or conduct maneuvers.
Once completed, scientific research at the station will focus on physical and biological oceanography, glaciology, marine ecology, zoology , atmospheric and space physics, and geology, the report said, citing the 2018 Integrated Environmental Assessment project submitted by China to Antarctica.