Russia and China are both drastically scaling up their presence in Antarctica in a bid to increase their influence in the last unclaimed part of the globe, The New York Times reports.
For Russia, operations in Antarctica are continuing long the lines first put in place by the Soviet Union.
Building off of Soviet bases already in place, Russia is expanding its development of a global petitioning system meant as a rival to American GPS.
Moscow has so far constructed a minimum of three satellite monitoring systems in the Antarctic, the Times reports, with future bases planned.
Russia also has more long-term ambitions in the region. Moscow, for example, was the lone country to oppose the creation of an Antarctic sanctuary that would have protected regions around the pole from fishing.
It is in terms of fishing and future access to resources that Russia and China’s ambitions in the Antarctic converge. Although Beijing did not establish its first Antarctic research base until 1985, Chinese efforts to expand its influence across the continent have intensified and are now outpacing other nations’ plans. As this map from 2013 shows, at the time China only had three bases in Antarctica.
Now, China’s plans to open a fifth base in Antarctica are proceeding on schedule, after Beijing opened its fourth base last year. The bases, unlike Russia’s holdovers from the Soviet Union, are brand new and reflect the country’s growing international ambitions and power, the Times reports.
Beijing claims that its bases are for scientific research. However, it also admits that its push for Antarctic influence plays into future operations aimed at ensuring access to resources, including plentiful fishing waters and mineral and hydrocarbon wealth.
A current ban on commercial drilling of resources in Antarctica is due to expire in 2048, unless the Protocol on Environmental Protection is re-ratified by consensus. If the accord does expire, Antarctica could become the next major source of hydrocarbons on earth. The region is believed to have an approximate 200 billion barrels of oil, in addition to being the largest single repository of fresh water on the planet.
China’s current investments could place it in an unrivalled position to take advantage of any resources on the continent in 2048.
“China’s exploration of the continent is like playing chess. It’s important to have a position in the global game,” Guo Peiqing, a law professor at the Ocean University of China told The Guardian. “We don’t know when play will happen, but it’s necessary to have a foothold.”