Beijing set to tighten its grip on key polar area

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am

Beijing will strengthen its grip on Dome Argus, the highest and coldest place in Antarctica, by finishing construction of a permanent outpost before the end of next year, state media reported yesterday.

The timetable has been adjusted to one year earlier than the goal set by the Polar Research Institute of China. According to Sun Bo, head of the latest inland expedition finished last week, construction would start in October this year.

Key structures of the station would be ready next January, Dr Sun said.

While previous Chinese activities on the plateau focused almost exclusively on astronomy, subsequent research will embrace a much wider range of areas and subjects.

'Scientists will search for the ice core dating from 1.2 million years ago on Dome A. They will study its evolution under its ice cap, the global climate changes and astronomy there,' Dr Sun said at a conference in Shanghai yesterday.

The new station will be supported by Beijing's two other settlements on the continent - both in coastal regions - with truck convoys to deliver goods and helicopters to transport staff and researchers.

Dr Sun also spoke of China's dominance in the region. 'Dome A is the highest point in Antarctica; it is also a peak in Antarctic research. The Chinese were the first to reach Dome A.' Dr Sun's confidence may have come from the latest expedition - the 24th by the nation since 1984.

State media has called the expedition 'an unprecedented success', 'an indication that Chinese have the capability to reach and stay anywhere' and 'a turning point' in the country's short but rapidly growing presence on Antarctica.

Although the nation's exuberant propaganda machine may have exaggerated the significance of the voyage, explorers from the mainland backed by ample government funding have experimented with many heavy machines and robots key to territorial expansion, and the technology for permanent human settlement.

They have also obtained a large volume of first-hand data in a largely unknown region that they say could be strategically important when depleting natural resources drive nations to carve up the unexploited continent rich in coal, natural gas, minerals and oil.

Xinhua said yesterday several nations claiming a part of Antarctica have been outlining their case before the United Nations in what some experts are describing as the last big carve-up of territory in history.

Some areas of the continent are disputed by Chile, Argentina and Britain. The claims come amid growing interest in the potential for mineral exploitation at both poles.