News / Asia

    Chinese Polar Ambitions Rise with Global Temperatures

    A combination of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) images show September Arctic sea ice in 1979, the first year these data were available, and 2009 in this image from a report released in 2010
    A combination of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) images show September Arctic sea ice in 1979, the first year these data were available, and 2009 in this image from a report released in 2010
    Ivan Broadhead

    China has been active in Antarctic exploration and scientific research since 1984, but only recently signaled its intent to become a hands-on player in Arctic affairs. As Beijing implements an unusually ambitious shift toward the poles, its goals and motivations are drawing scrutiny.

    Antarctica’s pristine environment is currently protected by the Madrid Protocol, a 1991 pact negotiated by then-Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and his French counterpart.

    The pioneering international agreement bans the exploitation of the southern polar region’s natural resources including coal, metals, and oil fields potentially as large as Saudi Arabia’s.

    Marking the protocol’s 20th anniversary, former prime minister Hawke says he hopes its terms will be upheld beyond the agreement’s expiration, in 2048.

    “It’s very important, fundamentally because Antarctica remains the only environment left in the world where scientific research can go on unimpeded by any form of pollution," said Hawke.

    But, in this era of energy insecurity and improved extraction technologies, the moratorium on the exploitation of Antarctica’s natural resources looks increasingly susceptible to challenge.

    Anne-Marie Brady, a political scientist at Christchurch University, is pessimistic that the ban on mineral exploitation in Antarctica will survive beyond 2048.

    “The global economy is so dominated by the need for oil. Unless there was a major shift in how people live their lives, particularly in developing countries, I think we’re just going to go on and on trying to find new locations to exploit oil," said Brady.

    A floating oil platform is tugged from harbor in Russia's northern port of Murmansk August 18, 2011. The Gazprom platform was to embark on from Murmansk port, launching an Arctic oil exploration effort
    A floating oil platform is tugged from harbor in Russia's northern port of Murmansk August 18, 2011. The Gazprom platform was to embark on from Murmansk port, launching an Arctic oil exploration effort

    Several nations are already believed to have undertaken feasibility studies for oil extraction in Antarctica. Concerns about China’s intentions grew last year when the land and resources minister, Xu Shaoshi, visited his country’s Zhongshan Antarctic base.

    Rebecca Lee of the Hong Kong Polar Museum Foundation says China’s polar interests are more about national prestige and scientific research, not territorial gain or mineral wealth.

    “Weather change can impact our life, our future, our agriculture, our economy. So we need to understand; not [take], not occupy,” Lee said.

    But while China appears content to preserve the status quo in Antarctica, it has had only mixed success reassuring skeptics about its plans in the Arctic.

    Beijing’s effort to achieve permanent observer status on the Arctic Council - a governing forum constituted by the eight Arctic states including the United States, Canada, Russia and Scandinavian countries - has twice been rejected.

    Anne-Marie Brady says that Beijing is signaling it has legitimate interests in the northern polar region. She believes this represents a move away from China’s usual non-confrontational approach to international relations.

    “In the Arctic, they want to have a leadership role in future decision making. And, this is actually a big shift in Chinese foreign policy. With this, they’ve actually stuck their oar in,” Brady added.

    China’s interest in the northern polar region partly derives from the changes global warming could have on northern sea routes. As Arctic ice melts, sea lanes in the previously un-navigable Northwest and Northeast passages could potentially be ice-free within a decade.

    The Russian research vessel the Akademik Fyodorov with miniature submarines on board sails in the Arctic Ocean in this Reuters Television image (File)
    The Russian research vessel the Akademik Fyodorov with miniature submarines on board sails in the Arctic Ocean in this Reuters Television image (File)

    The potential to sail these new routes, controlled by Canada, Russia and the U.S., is both an economic and security issue for China.

    Its merchant shipping fleet, delivering exports from Shanghai and Hong Kong to markets in Europe and North America, could cut 6,500 kilometers off voyages usually undertaken via the Suez Canal. The pirate-infested Gulf of Aden would be avoided altogether.

    Cheng Baozhi, an assistant research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, argues that non-Arctic states cannot be users of Arctic shipping routes without having a role in the region’s decision-making processes.

    “Cooperation is the trend. [But] military conflict, we cannot say it is impossible. Although they have no direct territorial link, the Arctic has [an] impact for the social and economic development [of] states in the Northern Hemisphere: China, Japan, Korea,” said Cheng.

    The melting ice raises worries that Chinese interests are moving to invest in, and extract, the Arctic’s considerable natural resources.

    A man cycles through the Norwegian Arctic settlement of Ny Alesund as the first snows of winter arrive (File)
    A man cycles through the Norwegian Arctic settlement of Ny Alesund as the first snows of winter arrive (File)

    Beijing’s relations with Norway highlight the importance China attaches to such strategic procurement. Disgruntled at Norway for awarding the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, Beijing has frozen political and trade ties with Oslo for a year.

    Yet it has ensured this freeze does not extend to preventing state-owned enterprises from investing in Norwegian-based energy concerns like silicone and solar panel producer, Orkla.

    In Iceland, Chinese tycoon and reputed former propaganda minister Huang Nubo continues to worry locals with his bid to buy 300 square kilometers of farmland. He says he plans to build a resort on the plot of land, which comprises just under half a percent of the country’ total landmass.

    Birgir Armannsson, a member of Iceland’s parliament, observes that, although Reykjavik enjoys good relations with China and there are no reasons to doubt Huang’s integrity, he is nonetheless a polarizing figure.

    “In times of [financial] crisis, there are all kinds of buccaneers," said Armannsson. "I ask myself, why is this person so interested in buying a lot of not so good farming land ... There are possibilities for hydropower, possibly geothermal power, but we don’t have the whole picture.”

    China’s efforts to expand its presence in the Arctic comes as other countries, including the United States, struggle to fund expeditions and infrastructure in the costly polar environment.

    Both U.S. polar icebreakers have been out of service for some time, forcing researchers to lease vessels from other countries for the annual mission to resupply the McMurdo research station in Antarctica.

    Meanwhile China plans to increase its polar activities aided by a new icebreaker expected in 2013. The sister ship to the Snow Dragon will give Beijing the capacity to permanently deploy a vessel in Arctic waters.

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora