Australia’s $575m Antarctica plan to counter China’s interests

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Australia has announced its intention to strengthen its presence and surveillance operations in Antarctica.

Sydney:

Australia on Tuesday announced plans to boost its presence and surveillance operations in Antarctica, unveiling a $575 million package designed to meet China’s growing interest in the pole.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ten-year funding plan would give Australia ‘eyes on Antarctica’ – increasing the country’s ability to survey and monitor the frozen tundra and surrounding waters at using drones, helicopters and autonomous vehicles.

Australia has territorial claims over 42% of Antarctica, the largest of any country, but lacks the capacity to reach the continent’s most remote corners.

There were fears in Canberra that the vacuum could be exploited by Beijing or Moscow, both of which are becoming more active on the continent.

Nearly half of Australia’s new funding will be for capabilities to roam inland areas, map the far east of Antarctica from the air using drones and purchase four new medium-lift helicopters.

There are also a handful of environmental projects in the announcement, including $5 million for research into the impact of climate change on the Antarctic ice sheets and to help Pacific countries monitor the rise. from sea level.

Morrison declined to be drawn in by his specific concerns about China’s growing interest in Antarctica, beyond saying, “They don’t share the same goals as Australia.”

China has built two permanent stations on Antarctica and its spending on Antarctic programs has steadily increased.

But Beijing’s footprint is eclipsed by the United States, which maintains the largest presence in Antarctica with around 1,400 people manning its three stations year-round in summers before the pandemic.

The influential Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently warned in a report that Antarctica had become a place of “geopolitical competition” and recommended steps to maintain a ban on military and mining activities.

Evan Bloom, the report’s author and polar expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, noted that while China and Russia are “insensitive to calls for compromise,” it was important for the United States and Australia to “manage carefully relations with strategic competitors”.

He said that when it comes to the management of Antarctica, cooperation remains vital.

“Excluding China from scientific cooperation risks giving credence to those in the Chinese government who wish to argue that the ATS [Antarctic Treaty System] does not benefit him and does not deserve a long-term commitment,” Bloom said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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