China’s global reach extends to Antarctic

12 February 2014

The State Oceanic Administration of China has announced the completion of its fourth Antarctic research station.

The 1,000 sq m, lantern-shaped Taishan laboratory, which can accommodate up to 20 people, was constructed in 53 days.

It follows three previous stations – the Great Wall, the Zhongshan and the Kunklun stations – all built since China’s first Antarctic expedition in 1984.

Most of the world’s larger powers have constructed Antarctic stations. The purpose is partly scientific, but also partly political.

At present the Antarctic Treaty System signed in 1961 limits decision-making powers over the Antarctic to those countries carrying out significant scientific activity.

This means that governments that wish to have a say in the future of the continent have to demonstrate a certain level of scientific activity.

The treaty also prohibits military activity, sovereignty claims and mining.

The Taishan station was designed to resist storms – and to resemble a traditional Chinese lantern

But the treaty is due to be renegotiated in 2048 and a number of nations are positioning themselves for seats at those talks.

Countries now believe that the simple act of naming a place can help improve their position. For example the UK recently named a large part of the continent "Queen Elizabeth Land".

Chinese cartographers have already named 359 locations.

Overall, China’s spending on the Antarctic has jumped from $20m a year in 1994 to $55m in 2013. China is planning to build a fifth station next year. If work does go ahead, it will have only one fewer than the US.

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