China releases 1st Antarctic paper

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/23 0:13:39

40th Antarctic Treaty meeting in Beijing

China on Monday released its first white paper on its Antarctic activities, vowing to increase investment in Antarctic research and safeguard the Antarctic Treaty System, which prohibits commercial resource extraction on the ice-capped continent.

The white paper was released by the State Oceanic Administration one day ahead of the 40th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which will be held from Tuesday to June 1 in Beijing.

Wang Hong, director of the State Oceanic Administration, reaffirmed China's commitment to safeguarding non-militarization, freedom of research and environmental protection in Antarctica on Monday at a press conference in Beijing.

Lin Shanqing, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration, said China has no plans to extract mineral resources on the continent.

He said China's main activities in Antarctica are environmental protection and enhancing its understanding of the continent.

The white paper depicts China's vision for Antarctica as pursuing an approach of peaceful use of Antarctica, safeguarding the stability of the Antarctic Treaty System, elevating Antarctic infrastructure and support capabilities, enhancing scientific investigation and research capability, while calling for strengthened Antarctic environmental protection and coordinating global governance of the continent.

"China is willing to join hands with the rest of the international community … to facilitate the establishment of a more equitable and rational international Antarctic order, and forging the Antarctic 'community of human destiny,'" the white paper said. 

China signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1983. The treaty designates the continent as a natural reserve and prohibits commercial resource extraction.

The country has since established four Antarctic research stations, Changcheng, Zhongshan, Kunlun and Taishan, and is planning to build its fifth.

The US has six stations and Australia has three.

Pushing for legislation

The white paper also said China is actively pushing for legislation on Antarctica.

"China is one of a few countries in the world that has signed the Antarctic Treaty but failed to enact a compatible domestic law," Lin told the Global Times on Monday.

He said the National People's Congress is currently researching the legislation, which will mainly focus on the environmental protection of Antarctica, but did not give a timetable.

The law is expected to regulate commercial activities in waters near Antarctica as China's fishing of Antarctic krill - small crustaceans that are a critical food for the continent's penguins and other creatures - has in the past raised some concerns in the Western media.

China currently harvests about 30,000 tons of Antarctic krill annually, and the largest harvester in the world takes around 140,000 tons annually, Lin said Monday, without naming which country he was referring to.

He emphasized that any Chinese company trying to do business in Antarctica must abide by relevant international rules.

Dome A management

The release of the white paper comes as about 400 representatives from 42 countries and 10 international organizations are expected to attend the 40th Antarctic Treaty meeting on Tuesday in Beijing.

It's China's first time to host an Antarctic Treaty meeting since it became a signatory.

Chinese vice Premier Zhang Gaoli is expected to deliver a speech at the opening ceremony.

The foreign ministry said the meeting will address climate change and tourism in Antarctica, as well as special protected areas.

China will also sign agreements of cooperation with the US, Russia and Germany.

Qin Weijia, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, admitted on Monday that there are divergent opinions on some issues related to how Dome A should be managed. He noted the relevant issues will be discussed at the upcoming meeting.

Dome A, also known as Dome Argus, is the highest point on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and one of the coldest places on earth. China built its Kunlun station on Dome A in 2009.

Jia Yu, a research fellow at the China Institute for Marine Affairs, told the Global Times on Monday that the meeting can help dispel misconceptions on China's intentions on the Antarctic.

Jia worked at China's Changcheng research station in Antarctica in December 2015.

"Some countries claim sovereignty over the Antarctica and others claim reserved rights for sovereignty. China has done none of that. The country has made a great contribution in Antarctic research, enjoyed its rights as a signatory of the treaty and shared its due responsibility," Jia said.

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