China’s Antarc­tic Ac­tiv­i­ties

Pho­to­graphs cour­tesy of Chi­nese Arc­tic and Antarc­tic Of­fice of the State Oceanic Administration of China

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Yin Xing

Re­mote and mys­te­ri­ous, Antarc­tica is the last ter­res­trial fron­tier on the planet. In 1958, the Sci­en­tific Com­mit­tee on Antarc­tic Re­search was founded, in­volv­ing 12 na­tions ac­tively en­gaged in Antarc­tic re­search, and in 1959 they signed the Antarc­tic Treaty, to which China was ad­mit­ted in 1983. And in 1985, China be­came one of the con­sul­ta­tive mem­ber coun­tries of the treaty.

From May 23 to June 1, 2017, the 40th Antarc­tic Treaty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing was held in China, the first time the event had hap­pened in the coun­try. Just be­fore the meet­ing, the State Oceanic Administration of China (SOAC) is­sued the re­port China’s Antarc­tic Ac­tiv­i­ties, re­view­ing the coun­try’s Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration ef­forts over three decades and demon­strat­ing its ac­tion plans and vi­sion for the fu­ture.

“China has ac­com­plished bril­liant achieve­ments in Antarc­tic ac­tiv­i­ties over the last 30 years,” says Xu Shi­jie, one au­thor of the re­port with the SOAC. “Peo­ple

around the world be­gan to pay at­ten­tion to China’s ac­tiv­i­ties there, re­sult­ing in some spec­u­la­tion. Some think we in­tend to plun­der re­sources, some think we want to in­crease our mil­i­tary pres­ence and some posit a spe­cial strate­gic pur­pose. We wanted to clar­ify China’s stance, goals and vi­sion, so we is­sued this re­port.”

Antarc­tic Ex­pe­di­tions

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, China’s Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tions com­menced around 1980, the dawn of the “warm­ing-up phase” (19802000), which pre­ceded the boom­ing phase (2001-2015). In 1985, the Changcheng (Great Wall) Sta­tion, China’s first per­ma­nent sta­tion, was built on King Ge­orge Is­land in west Antarc­tica. Since then, China has suc­ces­sively built Zhong­shan Sta­tion, Kun­lun Sta­tion and Tais­han Camp­site. China has mounted 33 Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tions in­clud­ing multi-dis­ci­plinary sci­en­tific sur­veys in geo­sciences, life sciences and as­tron­omy. More­over, China has es­tab­lished a na­tional Antarc­tic ob­ser­va­tion net­work com­bin­ing air, shore, ves­sel, sea, ice and seabed-based in­fra­struc­ture, which sat­is­fies the ba­sic de­mand of lo­gis­tic sup­port for Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tions.

“In the first two decades, China’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Antarc­tica fo­cused on sci­en­tific stud­ies,” says Xu Shi­jie. “Ac­cord­ing to in­com­plete statis­tics, fund­ing in­put from 2001 to 2016 to­taled 310 mil­lion yuan, 18 times as much as the 1985-2000 pe­riod. Over the last decade, thanks to tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, trans­porta­tion de­vel­op­ments and the in­creased in­comes of Chi­nese peo­ple, more Chi­nese tourists have set foot on Antarc­tica and China has be­come more ac­tive on the con­ti­nent.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, China com­menced Antarc­tic krill fish­ing in 2009, and its av­er­age an­nual har­vest had reached 30,000 tons by the end of Novem­ber 2016. And the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Antarc­tic Tour Op­er­a­tors re­ported that the to­tal vol­ume of Chi­nese tourists to Antarc­tica was 4,096 in 2015 and 5,286 in 2016, plac­ing China sec­ond only to the United States.

“China be­lieves that the Antarc­tic Treaty Sys­tem with the Antarc­tic Treaty as the core rep­re­sents the le­gal cor­ner­stone for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to ad­dress Antarc­tic af­fairs,” de­clares Dr. Wu Leizhao, one au­thor of the re­port from the SOAC. “China’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Antarc­tica com­ply with in­ter­na­tional laws. Since join­ing the Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of Antarc­tic Ma­rine Liv­ing Re­sources in 2006, China has ex­plored and uti­lized krill re­sources on a sus­tain­able ba­sis, in strin­gent com­pli­ance with con­ser­va­tion mea­sures re­quired by the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Con­sid­er­ing the boom­ing tourist in­flux, China re­quires do­mes­tic Antarc­tic tourism op­er­a­tors to fol­low in­ter­na­tional rules and op­er­a­tional modes to de­liver ac­cept­able per­for­mance in terms of Antarc­tic en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and tourist safety. “Ac­tu­ally, the China Na­tional Tourism Administration has not ap­proved do­mes­tic Antarc­tic travel pro­grams yet,” re­veals Dr. Wu. “Chi­nese tourists, with the help of do­mes­tic travel agen­cies, join for­eign cruises to reach the con­ti­nent. Although Chi­nese tourists were the sec­ond big­gest group, they were still less than half of that from the United States, which to­taled 14,566 in 2016. But Chi­nese tourists are among the fastest-grow­ing groups. We should pay at­ten­tion to that.”

Un­der­stand, Pro­tect and Use

In 2014, when Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping vis­ited the Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tion project in Aus­tralia, he re­marked that China would join hands with the rest of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to un­der­stand, pro­tect and uti­lize Antarc­tica. This re­port also men­tions China’s com­mit­ment to el­e­vate sci­en­tific re­search, strengthen en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and safe­guard the peace­ful us­age of Antarc­tica.

“First of all, we need to un­der­stand the land, be­fore we can even talk about pro­tect­ing and us­ing it,” says Xu. “We have very lim­ited knowl­edge about Antarc­tica and have ex­plored less than 20 per­cent of its area. But this land­mass of 14 mil­lion square kilo­me­ters, as well as the ocean area of 35 mil­lion square kilo­me­ters around it, is closely tied to the fate of hu­mankind. The land is the largest cold resource in the world, and bet­ter un­der­stand­ing it can help us ad­dress the prob­lems of melt­ing glaciers, ris­ing sea lev­els and global cli­mate change.”

Not long ago, the 40th Antarc­tic Treaty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing was held in Beijing, ap­prov­ing China’s Green Ex­pe­di­tion Work­ing Pa­per and Pro­posal jointly en­dorsed by Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, Chile, France, Ger­many, In­dia, South Korea, New Zealand, Nor­way, and the United States.

“In fact, all par­ties have al­ways em­pha­sized ‘green ex­pe­di­tions,’ such as leav­ing as few foot­prints as pos­si­ble on Antarc­tica, set­ting up con­ser­va­tion in­fra­struc­ture and us­ing clean en­ergy,” in­sists Chen Dan­hong, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional De­part­ment of the SOAC, “but se­lec­tively and un­sys­tem­at­i­cally. This time, we de­fined the con­cept, and sys­tem­atized and ex­panded it by adding new in­no­va­tive tech­no­log­i­cal and management modes. Fur­ther­more, we com­bined var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly meth­ods to­gether to ex­pand the con­cept.”

Chen elab­o­rates that China’s ex­pe­di­tion team is us­ing a new en­ergy management sys­tem, an in­tel­li­gent management plat­form based on multi-mode power sup­ply and the Build­ing In­for­ma­tion Mode (BIM). This sys­tem makes full use of wind and so­lar en­ergy and in­te­grates the Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem (GIS), cloud com­put­ing, the in­ter­net of things, VR tech­nol­ogy and fa­cil­ity management. The sys­tem al­lows bet­ter use of fa­cil­i­ties and im­proves prop­erty management of China’s Antarc­tic re­search sta­tions, so as to pro­long the life­spans of fa­cil­i­ties and save en­ergy.

“For us, Antarc­tica is a nat­u­ral lab­ora- tory in which we can bet­ter ex­plore the earth’s evo­lu­tion and mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse, and seek new space for the global en­vi­ron­ment and re­sources,” Xu says. “We pri­or­i­tize pro­tec­tion over us­age. China is com­mit­ted to al­ways us­ing Antarc­tica in a peace­ful, sci­en­tific and sus­tain­able way.”

Vi­sion and Ac­tion

Re­leased in 2016, the 13th Five-year Plan for Na­tional Eco­nomic and So­cial Devel­op­ment of China (2016-2020) in­cluded a ma­jor pro­gram in­volv­ing the Xue­long ex­pe­di­tions to Antarc­tica. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the 13th Five-year Plan pe­riod rep­re­sents a crit­i­cal time for China to be­come a great maritime power. China will set up a new Antarc­tic sta­tion, de­ploy a new ice­breaker and im­prove its Antarc­tic avi­a­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“China’s Xue­long ves­sel for ex­pe­di­tions is a com­pre­hen­sive ship that fa­cil­i­tates sci­en­tific stud­ies and trans­ports sup­plies at the same time,” ex­plains Xu. “The Xue­long ves­sel was de­signed for trans­porta­tion rather than for sci­en­tific re­search. Although we have ren­o­vated it many times, it still has ‘in­her­ent prob­lems.’ So we’ll build a new ves­sel specif­i­cally for sci­en­tific stud­ies and fit it with pro­fes­sional equip­ment to give us bet­ter abil­i­ties to per­form re­search.”

De­spite great devel­op­ment in re­cent years, China still ranks as a sec­ond-tier ex­plorer of Antarc­tica, lag­ging be­hind coun­tries like the United States, Rus­sia and Aus­tralia, due to its late start. “For ex­am­ple, Amer­ica’s air­planes can fly to any corner of the con­ti­nent thanks to sev­eral in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal run­ways,” notes Dr. Wu.

“More im­por­tantly, they have been gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and gath­er­ing statis­tics through sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tion and re­search for 30 years longer than us. We should learn from what they have done and are do­ing. Of course, we have some ad­van­tages. We per­sis­tently drill the ice core in the Antarc­tic in­land Dome A re­gion, which is home to the Kun­lun Sta­tion. We have reached 800 me­ters deep. The re­sults will con­trib­ute greatly to mankind’s un­der­stand­ing of Antarc­tica.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, China will fur­ther pro­mote in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and play a more ac­tive role in the global gov­er­nance of Antarc­tica. In 1980, when China first sent two sci­en­tists to Antarc­tica, they trav­eled with an Aus­tralian ex­pe­di­tion team. China has al­ways be­lieved that in­ter­na­tional ex­change is an im­por­tant facet of Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration. “In­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion is very heavy at the pole,” says Xu. “We reg­u­larly co­op­er­ate with many coun­tries in­clud­ing Chile, Rus­sia, Uruguay, and the United States. Sci­en­tists from Thai­land board our ves­sels to do re­search ev­ery year.”

“Antarc­tica is a concern for all mankind, so as the re­port says, China deems Antarc­tica a great prac­tice field for es­tab­lish­ing a hu­man com­mu­nity of shared fu­ture and will con­trib­ute Chi­nese ideas and wis­dom to the peace­ful use of Antarc­tica.”

Zhong­shan Sta­tion, one of China's per­ma­nent sta­tions in Antarc­tica.

In 1985, the Changcheng (Great Wall) Sta­tion, China's first per­ma­nent sta­tion, was built on King Ge­orge Is­land in west Antarc­tica. Since then, China has suc­ces­sively built Zhong­shan Sta­tion, Kun­lun Sta­tion and Tais­han Camp­site.

China's first Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tion in 1984.

Fleets of trucks head for Zhong­shan Sta­tion, one of China's per­ma­nent sta­tions in Antarc­tica.

Two tech­ni­cians ad­just in­stru­ments. In the 1980s, China started its Antarc­tic stud­ies.

Xuey­ing (Snow Ea­gle), China's first fixed-wing air­craft in Antarc­tica, was put into ser­vice in 2015.

The Xue­long (Snow Dragon) ex­pe­di­tion ves­sel was put into ser­vice in 1994. China will de­ploy a new ice­breaker in five years.

In the first two decades, China's ac­tiv­i­ties in Antarc­tica fo­cused on sci­en­tific stud­ies. Ac­cord­ing to in­com­plete statis­tics, fund­ing in­put from 2001 to 2016 to­taled 310 mil­lion yuan, 18 times as much as dur­ing the 1985-2000 pe­riod.

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