What Is China up to in Antarctica?

The World
How It Works
Feb. 10 2014 3:50 PM

The Scramble for Antarctica

459751165-this-image-taken-by-passenger-andrew-peacock-of-www
The new frontier.

Photo by Andrew Peacock/AFP/Getty Images

For all the attention that the brewing competition for natural resources in the rapidly melting Arctic has gotten in recent years, things have been relatively quiet in Antarctica, despite similar ambiguity over territorial control and potential for major resource grabs: The continent's oil reserves are estimated at up to 203 billion barrels—the third-largest in the world—and perhaps even more importantly in the coming century, its ice holds 90 percent of the world’s fresh water.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

But there’s a sign this week that things may be heating up a bit on the South Pole with China’s unveiling of its fourth Antarctic research base—the UFO-shaped Taishan—with a fifth planned for next year. (Japan, Germany and, Italy already have five stations, and Britain and the U.S. have six.)

Advertisement

Vaughan Winterbottom of Australia’s Lowy Institute writes that:

Some have questioned China's motivations for expanding its presence on the southern continent. 'The country is rapidly building research stations — a method of assertion on a continent where sovereignty is disputed,' wrote Nicola Davison on ChinaDialogue in November. In Stars and Stripes, Seth Robson commented last year that 'China is boosting its presence in Antarctica with an eye on the icy continent's vast untapped resources.'

For now, mining is prohibited under the Antarctic Treaty, but that will be up for review in 2048 and a number of countries may try to jockey for position before then.

The treaty also forbids new territorial claims by countries on the continent but passes no judgment on previous ones, which has occasionally led to some controversy. Britain and Argentina have overlapping claims and—in the midst of the dispute between the two countries over the Falkland Islands—Argentina objected last year to London’s decision to name a large swathe of Antarctic territory after Queen Elizabeth II.

Chile, Argentina, Britain, Norway, France, Australia, and New Zealand have current claims on Antarctic territory, but given the ambiguity involved, you can probably expect a lot more countries to be angling for a piece of the Antarctic pie over the next 30 years.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.