China’s increasing interest to explore Antarctica and establish bases there is said to be driven by something else than pure scientific curiosity. According to ABC news, evidence has emerged that Beijing is actually seeking to exploit the Southern Pole’s minerals despite an international agreement preventing it.
Antarctica, currently protected from mining by an international pact, stores an abundance of highly sought resources, including coal, iron ore, manganese, copper, lead, uranium, diamonds, gas and billions of barrels of oil reserves.
But mining those riches would not be an easy task. Even without the Antarctic Treaty, ratified last November by president Xi Jinping himself, extracting its resources doesn’t seem a viable option.
Unlike the warmer and much more accessible Arctic, Antarctic would “welcome” miners with hurricane-strength winds and the world’s largest icebergs. All this while crews try to figure how to drill pass the mantle of ice covering 99% of the continent, which is over three kilometres (two miles) thick.
However Professor Anne-Marie Brady, a political scientist from the University of Canterbury, seems to believe that China has somehow found the way to do it.
“I’ve been researching Chinese polar interests since 2008 and the Chinese language materials are very, very clear about China’s interest in Antarctic minerals,” she told ABC.
The material included a 2005 report by senior and former members of the Polar Research Institute of China, the body responsible for coordinating Antarctic research.
It said the rich resources, which included oil, gas and minerals, were the main reason for Antarctic expeditions and that exploitation was just “a matter of time”.
What is more, according ton Brady, Chinese believe that many countries in Antarctica are occupying bases not to pursue scientific questions but to invest in long-term strategic interests, “including potential access to any resources that may be discovered.”
“Completely, absolutely, utterly opposed” to mining Antarctica
Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt played down ABC’s report saying that Beijing and Canberra have an agreement that commits both countries to full, peaceful co-operation in Antarctica, and to an absolute ban on mining on the frozen continent.
“We are completely, absolutely and utterly opposed to any mining in Antarctica, ever,” Hunt told reporters in Tasmania on Wednesday.
Beijing unveiled its fourth Antarctic research station last year. Over the weekend, a Chinese icebreaker stopped off in New Zealand to refuel en route from Antarctica. The research vessel has been supporting scientific research on climate change, surveying a potential site for prospective bases and positioning fuel depots for science supported by Antarctica New Zealand.
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