Snow dragon on the prowl

China has now set its eyes on yet another territory: Antarctica. An ice-breaker steamed south from Shanghai Wednesday bound for the frozen continent where it will set up Beijing’s fifth station

Published: 10th November 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th November 2017 01:50 AM   |  A+A-

China has now set its eyes on yet another territory: Antarctica. An ice-breaker steamed south from Shanghai Wednesday bound for the frozen continent where it will set up Beijing’s fifth station

Polar power

The 334-person crew of the ice-breaker Xuelong, which means “Snow Dragon”, will establish a temporary 206-square-meter base on rocky Inexpressible Island. The Communist nation is ploughing money into polar exploration and research as other countries like the US pull back under funding constraints and a glut of other global priorities

China has rapidly built up activities on the continent, building new bases and commissioning polar-capable ships and aircraft. Officials say it intends to become a “polar power.” The country is already the pre-eminent spender on Antarctic programmes, according to experts

Tip of the iceberg

China has a growing collection of outposts, with its largest—the Great Wall station—able to pack in 80 researchers in the summer months. The base was not built until 1985, more than 80 years after Argentina established Antarctica’s first base, on Laurie Island in 1904. The US, in contrast, operates three permanent bases relying in part on decades-old equipment. Argentina tops the list with six permanent bases, according to AFP

US losing the race?

Equally important are the expensive ice-breakers, whose sturdy hulls are crucial for getting supplies to iced-in Antarctic outposts. Russia has more than 40, while the US has just two, one of which is years past its prime. China has two ice-breakers and a third is under construction

Mapping for mining

The multilateral Antarctic Treaty bars mineral exploitation on the continent, but that may change in 2048 when rules governing the treaty change, AFP adds. Some researchers worry that resource-hungry China’s interest in the South Pole is a thinly veiled cover to allow mapping of the continent in preparation for a future when mining and drilling may be allowed

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