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China plans to dominate global commons of Antarctica

News Agencies | Updated on: 22 March 2021, 8:44 IST
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With an aim to dominate the Arctic and Antarctica regions, China has been pouring investments and aggressively constructing a fleet of polar icebreakers as part of its geopolitical ambitions, according to a report published in The National Interest.

Alexander B Gray, a Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), in an article for the Washington-based magazine said that although the western countries have taken note of China's designs over the Arctic, however, Beijing's machinations in Antarctica remain little-known.


Antarctica is considered a global commons to be preserved "for peaceful purposes only" under the terms of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and "any measures of a military nature" are prohibited.

Gray wrote that both the United States and China are signatories to the treaty and its most important addendum, the 1991 Madrid Protocol, which permanently prohibits extractive mining, protects the unique flora and fauna of the continent.

"The enforcement mechanism of the Antarctic Treaty and its protocols is an inspection system, whereby signatories undertake periodic visits to the stations maintained by around thirty countries. Not only are these visits notoriously infrequent, however, they are also incomplete, having failed to visit some of China's five research stations on Antarctica to date," said Gary while adding that Beijing has used some of its Antarctic bases for satellite receiving stations and high-powered telescopes, both of which have military applications.

Despite the clear warning signs, none of China's bases has been inspected since 2015.

Gray further said China's construction of a permanent Antarctic airfield in 2018, its growing fleet of icebreakers, and an influx of People's Liberation Army personnel at Beijing's research stations are just a sampling of Beijing's military objectives.

Besides the military objectives, a significant number of Chinese experts believe that the Madrid Protocol expires in 2048, along with the accompanying ban on mining in the Antarctic. This development has prompted Chinese officials to openly speculate about the Southern Continent as a potential source for rare earth elements.

According to Gray, the Biden administration has an opportunity to affirm the rule-based international order and push back against China's ambitions in the Antarctic by holding Beijing accountable for its unauthorised military activity and potentially discovering additional violations.

The Biden administration can also send a strong signal about the international community's commitment to the preservation of the Antarctic's ecology by making clear its intention to keep the key provisions of the Madrid Protocol in place after 2048.

Lastly, Gray argued that Washington and its allies need to act now to ensure such an outcome.

(ANI)

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First published: 22 March 2021, 8:42 IST
 
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