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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora