Briefly: China is building its fifth research facility in the Antarctic, resuming construction there after a five-year pause. The new base (on Inexpressible Island) is located far from China’s four other stations, maximising its footprint.
China’s not the only power sprinkling research stations across the Antarctic like Salt Bae seasoning a rump. So why all the interest? Well first, it’s China. And second, the new site will include a satellite ground station.
This kind of ‘dual use’ facility can help do other things like collect intel. And it’ll be ideally placed to collect that intel from New Zealand and Australia, two nearby members of the Five Eyes intelligence network.
But world powers show an interest in Antarctica for other reasons, too:
- 📡 It’s one of the world’s clearest points for satellite transmissions
- 🚢 As the ice melts, new shipping (and mining) opportunities open up
- 🏆 And it’s a bit of a trophy for countries seeking ‘great power’ status
Plus of course, there’s plenty of legit scientific research happening down there too, including the project that helped discover the ozone hole in 1985.
Intrigue’s take: Right now, the Antarctic Treaty prohibits any country from militarising the continent or exploiting its natural resources. The US has even inspected China’s site and found nothing of note (beyond a dead penguin!).
But the Treaty becomes modifiable in 2048, and nobody really knows what might happen. That uncertainty drives suspicion. And that suspicion drives manoeuvring.
Also worth noting:
- China currently operates two icebreakers, with a third under construction. Russia operates 37 icebreakers.
- There are 82 stations in Antarctica run by 30 countries. Argentina has the most (13). The largest (the US McMurdo Station) can host 1,000 people.