Antarctica: Melting ice ‘serious’ for London warns scientist
Experts have already expressed concern over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s intentions in the South, with fears Beijing will position itself as a global leader in the region and test its rivals over an international treaty. The global pact, signed 60 years ago, is dedicated to preserving and protecting the continent for scientific research and provides a safeguard against nuclear proliferation. But as the coronavirus outbreak forced many western governments to provide bailout programmes for its scientists in Antarctica, China continued to push forward with research and investments – sparking claims the secretive nation was “weaponising the pandemic”.
Mr O’Brien fears things could get even worse – apparently sending a warning over email before his departure.
According to Forbes, he stated: “As we have seen in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, cyber economic espionage, and in trade, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wilfully disregards international agreements when it is convenient to do so.”
Beijing has been testing the treaty for years.
Inspection reports, filled out by other Antarctic stakeholders, have reportedly identified various violations of the treaty.
Joe Biden has been tipped to stand up to China
Concerns have grown over the Antarctica treaty
Australian observers claimed: “China has conducted undeclared military activities in Antarctica, is building up the case for a territorial claim and is engaging in minerals exploration.”
And Mr O’Brien claims scientific research is being used to cloak its true intentions.
He cautioned that China’s “military-civil fusion strategy” has become the norm, and that the CCP “often operates opaquely, manipulating ostensibly civilian scientific, academic and commercial agreements to advance its military goals”.
In 2018, China started building a fifth Antarctic “research” station without submitting a draft of the new station’s Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation.
The new base is under construction and expected to open in 2022.
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Antarctica territorial claims
While the West has been busy focussing its attention on the problems on its doorstep, China has maintained a continued presence on the continent and is reportedly pushing their luck for more access to fishing, oil reserves, and mining.
And Beijing is said to be ramping up production of icebreaker ships to do so.
Even before the pandemic, experts warned that the secretive state could use these research vessels to further their claims on the continent.
As fears rise over China’s disregard for the key basis of the Antarctic Treaty System, Mr Biden has been tipped to straighten things out.
Royal Holloway’s Professor Klaus Dodds told Express.co.uk “I would hope under a Biden presidency to see more interest in pushing through conservation efforts.
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Chinese icebreaker production has increased
“We’ve all got to hope that President Biden will be a little bit more like President [Barack] Obama and more interested in America’s reputation in the world and its leadership.
“To be completely fair, the US has historically been a real leader over Marine Protected Areas and conservation in Antarctica.”
In 2048, several elements of the Antarctic Treaty System will come up for contention, but Prof Dodds warns that China can “chip away” at the treaty well before then.
He continued: “In the next five to 10 years, a lot of this tension will make itself known, so there’s no point obsessing about dates on the treaty.
Biden is expected to be more like Obama
“What’s going on now is a source of concern, not what happens in 2048 – a lot of these things are already revealing themselves.
“We’ve got to stop thinking of these places as remote, unimportant or disconnected, they’re not – they are centre stage in global politics.
“Western countries want to hang on to the treaty, so what China will do is it will keep chipping away at the terms – in the sense of the collective will and determination of the others to try and block them – because they don’t want China to walk away.
“That’s why consensus often leads to uncomfortable compromise, it’s a Catch-22 – you want to keep the big players, but it carries with it costs and dangers.”