Friday, November 3, 2017

China ‘poses threat to treaty in Antarctica’

China ‘poses threat to treaty in Antarctica’

  • The Australian
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Opposition assistant defence spokesman David Feeney said Beijing was already conducting operations deep in Australian ­territory from the two bases it has set up there and its polar expedition funding had trebled in the past 10 years.
In a recent submission to an ­inquiry into Australia’s Antarctic strategic plan, Mr Feeney said ­developing nations such as China and India were rapidly boosting their Antarctic presence while Australia was retreating to the fringes of its increasingly vulnerable claim.
“When viewed in comparison to China’s growing Antarctic presence, Australia appears in very real danger of losing its leadership status,’’ Mr Feeney said in the submission.
“Continued underinvestment could impact Australia’s diplomatic standing in Antarctic affairs and potentially threaten the ­viability of its Antarctic claim.”
Antarctica is thought to be home to about one third of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves and a swag of other mineral deposits.
Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum of understanding with Australia in Hobart this week pledging to keep Antarctica free from mineral exploitation and military activity. While in Hobart, Mr Xi toured the ­Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, which will soon take Chinese personnel to Antarctica to survey a new airstrip and build a fifth base.
Cynics believe that pressure to exploit Antarctica for energy or minerals will intensify just as ­developing nations apply pressure to challenge the treaty in which Australia, Britain and New Zealand notionally hold more than two thirds of the continent.
China’s Zhongshan Station in the Australian Antarctic Territory can hold up to 60 personnel and it has a second base within Australian territory along with two other Antarctic stations.
Australian defence scholars have previously warned Beijing has the potential to militarise its Antarctic bases, and its inland Kunlun station was perfect for monitoring and intercepting satellite communications. China has a new icebreaker in service while Australia has just moved to replace the ageing Aurora Australis.
Mr Feeney told The Weekend Australian that Australia must ­establish better air links, build a new base in the interior and boost its scientific presence there to help preserve the claim.
“China has in effect caught up with most of the developed states’ Antarctic operational capabilities. Continued underinvestment by Australia could potentially see its capabilities and presence fall ­behind those of China,’’ Mr Feeney said in his submission.
Former Australian Antarctic Division chief Tony Press’s recent report on a new 20-year strategy for Antarctica also calls for investment in Australia’s program, ­including modernising bases, re-establishing the ability to penetrate into the interiors, improving air links and upgrading the Hobart runway and port to make it a better base for Antarctic exploration.