Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Nengye Liu, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of New England

Antarctica’s early history was marked by national rivalries – think of Britain and Norway racing to the South Pole in 1911. But since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, collaboration has become more important than competition. And the relationship between Australia – Antarctica’s biggest territorial claimant – and China, the emerging superpower, is among the most crucial of all.

One of Australia’s key aims, as set out in its Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, is to strengthen the existing Antarctic Treaty system, by “building and maintaining strong and effective relationships with other Antarctic Treaty nations through international engagement”.

As Australia’s largest trading partner and a significant player in Antarctica, China is a crucial nation with which to engage if Australia is to meet its objectives. This raises the question of how the two countries might fruitfully cooperate in Antarctica over the next 20 years.

Existing ties

China began its first scientific expedition to Antarctica in 1984. It now has four Antarctic bases, two on Australian-claimed territory.

Australia and China’s Antarctic ties have thus been evolving for more than three decades, with a focus on science, logistics and operations. Bilateral relations seem to have strengthened in recent years.

In 2014, President Xi Jinping visited Hobart and signed a memorandum of understanding with Australia to collaborate in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Last year, Australia’s Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre signed an agreement with its Chinese counterpart, the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Centre, to develop new forecasting methods to aid the challenging task of navigating Antarctic sea ice.

February 2016 saw the inaugural meeting of the China-Australia Joint Committee on Antarctic and Southern Ocean Collaboration, which arose from the 2014 agreement.

But it has not all been smooth sailing. China has strongly opposed Australia’s proposal to establish a network of marine protected areas off East Antarctica.

image Proposed marine parks off East Antarctica. Australian Antarctic Division

Australia is also concerned about China’s presence in Antarctica. For example, a news article at the time of Xi’s 2014 visit suggested that “China may eventually try to overthrow the Antarctic Treaty system underpinning Australia’s claim to 43% of the frozen continent”, while questions have been asked about the scope of China’s mining ambitions on the frozen continent.

Potential future collaborations

There are several reasons, however, to expect that China and Australia can put aside their diplomatic differences in pursuit of Antarctic science.

First, it seems more likely that China will continue to endorse the Antarctic Treaty than to undermine it. As a rising power, China has growing interests in the Southern Ocean but it has no territorial claim in Antarctica. It would certainly not be at the front of the queue in the ensuing land grab if the treaty were to end.

Realistically, China should therefore continue to support the treaty, under which the seven existing national claims (plus any prospective claim by the United States, which has a research base at the South Pole) are suspended.

This logic is backed up by China’s behaviour with regard to the even more politically fraught North Pole. By becoming an observer of the Arctic Council, China has opted to embrace rather than challenge the current Arctic regime, despite the jockeying among Arctic nations over territorial rights.

Second, to maintain Australia’s leadership and excellence in Antarctic science, it will need to collaborate with industry and other nations. As an economic powerhouse, China has both the funding and the technology to deliver things like icebreaker ships, a well as a keen interest in Antarctica, which should extend to long-term scientific collaborations.

Third, Australia wants to maintain its leadership in environmental stewardship of Antarctica. One current hurdle seems to be China’s opposition to Australia, France and the European Union over the planned marine protected areas off East Antarctica. As the world’s largest fishing nation, China’s reluctance to support “no-take zones” is hardly surprising.

Nevertheless, this issue could potentially be converted from obstacle to opportunity, perhaps by Australia inviting Chinese scientists to conduct joint scientific research in these areas of the Southern Ocean. This would not only improve understanding of unknown marine ecosystems, but would also be a useful way for Australia to exert diplomatic “soft power”.

image Antarctica is increasingly attractive to the more affluent of China’s tourists. Butterfly voyages/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Finally, Australia has its own economic interests in Antarctica, such as sustainable fishing and tourism. Meanwhile, ever greater numbers of Chinese tourists are venturing abroad, with visits to Australia passing the 1 million mark last year. With Antarctica now also on the radar for China’s richer tourists, Australia could not only benefit economically but must also work closely with China to develop regulations that prevent this nascent industry from damaging the Antarctic environment.

All of this means we can reasonably expect Australian-Chinese ties to grow ever closer over the next two decades – even in the world’s remotest place.

This article is part of a series on Australian science and diplomacy in Antarctica. Look out for more articles in the coming days.

Authors: Nengye Liu, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of New England

Read more http://theconversation.com/why-antarctica-depends-on-australia-and-chinas-alliance-59522

Writers Wanted

Planning a road trip in a pandemic? 11 tips for before you leave, on the road and when you arrive

arrow_forward

Biden's cabinet picks are globally respected, but one obstacle remains for the US to 'lead the world' again

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism

Buy Instagram Followers And Likes Now

Do you like to buy followers on Instagram? Just give a simple Google search on the internet, and there will be an abounding of seeking outcomes full of businesses offering such services. But, th...

News Co - avatar News Co

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion