China’s Undeclared Foreign Policy at the Poles–Lowy Institute

An interesting post on China’s actions and intentions, particularly with regard to Antarctica, from the Lowy Institute, an Australian international policy think tank.

The Chinese government currently spends more than any other Antarctic state on new infrastructure such as bases, planes, and icebreakers. China has doubled its number of bases in Antarctica and now has four research stations, two field camps, and three air fields there, and it is getting ready to build a fifth base in the Ross Sea region, not far from the USA’s McMurdo Station. China has the second largest number of citizens visiting and working in Antarctica. Chinese polar scientists have made significant geographical discoveries and named hundreds of geographical sites. The Chinese Antarctic science programme has fully self-sufficient air, land, and sea capabilities in Antarctica. It has two ice-strengthened vessels operating in Antarctic waters, with a further vessel under construction. China’s icebreaker has circumnavigated the continent twice, mapping uncharted Antarctic waters.

9 thoughts on “China’s Undeclared Foreign Policy at the Poles–Lowy Institute

  1. I thought China has just one ice-class research vessel, the Xue Long, operating in the Arctic and Antarctic water.

    • Only one “icebreaker” and it is not a particularly good one. Building another.
      I’ve noticed most of the nations with outposts in Antarctica seem to be operating down there with vessels that are not true icebreakers. .

      • One of the main reasons why the United States is the only country operating in Antarctica with heavy icebreakers is probably that the ice conditions off McMurdo are much more challenging than elsewhere in Antarctica even during the summer. That’s why other countries can cope with ships like the Xue Long, a converted Project 10621 icebreaking cargo and supply ship originally designed for the Russian Arctic, or combined research/resupply vessels like Aurora Australis (Australia) and S. A. Agulhas II (South Africa). Argentina is the only country in the southern hemisphere in possession of a “real” icebreaker, ARA Almirante Irizar, and even that is not particularly powerful vessel. With the exception of Krasin’s charter for the NSF few years ago, I don’t think the Russians have sent their large non-nuclear icebreakers to Antarctica for a long time (and the nuclear ones have difficulties getting across the equator).

        Speaking of Antarctic vessels, the construction of Australia’s new icebreaker began today:

  2. A Chinese company is building a “polar expedition icebreaker” designed by Damen:

    This YouTube video shows what the vessel looks like:

    At 95 m (311 ft) by 17 m (56 ft) and 5,000 tons, it’s not a particularly big vessel. 0:31 indicates Rolls-Royce Azipull Z-drive thrusters but that might just be the model maker’s choice and does not represent final equipment selection. I bet the ice class is PC-5 at most, probably not even that.

    However, that hull form is not suitable for icebreaking in ahead direction, but perhaps it’s a double-acting vessel capable of going backwards in ice? Can’t see the stern from the video, though. Regardless, what is shown in the video at 0:21 is simply not possible with that bow shown at 0:37.

    So, no need to sound an alarm for yet another Chinese icebreaker…

  3. From the German Navy blog, “Marine Forum”: “20 July, CHINA, Polar research ship „Xue Long“ departs Shanghai on a nearly 3-month expedition to the Arctic region
    (rmks: also collecting data for military use)”


    “Chinese scientists have begun preliminary research on a next-generation icebreaker capable of lengthy research missions in the Arctic and Antarctica, according to the program’s chief designer.”

    It’s kind of funny how the Chinese have deployed scientists to solve an engineering task. Still, the following is a bit concerning:

    “‘It will be able to break ice about 3 meters thick and withstand -45 C, which means it can stay for a long time in polar regions,’ he said.”

    They really want to get to places where, until now, only Russia has had business going with their nuclear-powered icebreakers.

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