Why People are Starting to Worry About China’s Ambitions in Antarctica

Apart from China’s rhetoric and actions, China’s domestic transition towards a green, low carbon economy will serve as the best explanation for its ambitions in Antarctica.

The News Lens
Date: 2017/08/28
By: Jiliang Chen

Concerns raised by China’s promulgation of the term “use” or “utilization” in its Antarctic diplomacy is causing mistrust in Antarctic governance.

The main cause for concern for some in the international community is China’s status as a “resource hungry nation” that craves fossil fuels and minerals to feed its growing economy. In the context of the Antarctic, China’s long-term interest in the region may be motivated by the fact that the 1998 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol) will be up for review in 2048, which will include discussion of mining operations beginning in Antarctica.

Adding to this concern is the ambiguity surrounding China’s Antarctic agenda. China does not have comprehensive legislation or an official strategy for Antarctica. Deng Xiaoping(鄧小平)’s 1980s slogan “contribute to mankind’s peaceful use of Antarctica”(為人類和平利用南極做出貢獻), which the former leader used to capture China’s position on the region, can be widely interpreted. China has so far employed the term “rational use” as a reason to block negotiations on marine protected areas under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The term “use” in Chinese domestic laws — such as in the Law on the Protection of Wild Life — is controversial and associated with the poor practice.

But does China actually have any ambitions to re-shape the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) into a regime for resource exploitation?

China’s hunger for resources is driven by the need to fuel its rapidly growing economy. China’s economy is export driven, which means part of its demand for raw material originates from the consumption of other countries. Domestic demand for a better living also contributes to growth. But the need for natural resources will stagnate when China’s population peaks in the 2030s as predicted.    [FULL  STORY]