China resumes construction on fifth Antarctica base, shows new satellite imagery

Report uses satellite images from January to identify new support facilities and temporary buildings

Sravasti Dasgupta
Wednesday 19 April 2023 16:37 BST
Related video: What are China’s alleged ‘secret overseas police stations’?

China has resumed construction of its fifth research facility in Antarctica after a years-long lull, a new report has said.

Beijing is building new support facilities and groundwork for a larger structure in Antarctica’s southern polar region, revealed a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published on Tuesday.

The report said the new station, on Inexpressible Island near the Ross Sea, is expected to include an observatory with a satellite ground station, and should help China “fill in a major gap” in its ability to access the continent, said the report.

The report said construction on the country’s fifth station in the southern polar region resumed for the first time since 2018.

The Washington-based think tank used satellite images taken in January to identify new support facilities, temporary buildings, a helicopter pad and foundations for a larger main building at the 5,000 sq m (53,820 sq ft) station.

Construction is estimated to be finished by 2024.

“While the station can provide tracking and communications for China’s growing array of scientific polar observation satellites, its equipment can concurrently be used for intercepting other nations’ satellite communications,” the report said.

The new station is positioned to collect signals intelligence from Australia and New Zealand and telemetry data on rockets launched from Australia’s new Arnhem Space Centre.

Upon completion, the station is expected to include a wharf for China’s Xuelong icebreaker ships.

China has established four scientific research bases in Antarctica since 1984, reported CNN citing the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A map shows the locations of existing Chinese Antarctic stations and the Inexpressible Island site of a new station in this handout image (via REUTERS)

The country has claimed that the nature of its ambition in the region is only of a scientific nature.

However, according to a 2022 US Department of Defense report, China’s strategy could include intentions to improve the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army.

“(China’s) strategy for Antarctica includes the use of dual-use technologies, facilities, and scientific research, which are likely intended, at least in part, to improve PLA (People’s Liberation Army) capabilities,” the report said.

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty restricts activities on the continent to “peaceful purposes” and allows military personnel to conduct scientific research, but bans the setting up of bases or carrying out manoeuvers or testing weapons.

China is a party to the treaty.

Additional reporting by agencies

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