China is stepping up with its plans for Antarctica: The French news site Intelligence Online reported last November, as well as South American media currently, that China was exerting pressure to establish a naval base in Ushuaia. The base will bring China closer to Antarctica, in addition to enabling it to control the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. According to independent intelligence and local media reports, China is trying to establish a “gateway” to Antarctica by building a port in Tierra del Fuego that could function as a naval base. In addition, the government plans to build a station for better communication with its satellites for ocean observations in Antarctica.
Shuiping Tu represents state-owned HydroChina Corp in South America. China has made large investments in the region, allowing the Chinese government to build influence in the region and placing it in a strategically important position.
Officials had previously stressed that Chinese investment in Argentina will not affect the country’s sovereignty in any way.
Experts suggest that a base in the region would help China tap into regional communications, which would have severe economic and strategic implications and likely lead to significant and massive interference by the country in international affairs.
The extent of this interference could be seen in the plans that the area proposed for the port will be accessible only to Chinese military personnel, according to reports.
“A possible Chinese base in Ushuaia would allow Beijing to have a permanent enclave in the Southern Hemisphere, with a projection toward the South Atlantic that, depending on the terms negotiated with Argentina, could allow the construction of facilities, as well as the presence of naval units and military contingents,” Alberto Rojas, director of the International Affairs Observatory at Chile’s Finis Terrae University, told Diálogo, a digital military magazine published by the U.S. Southern Command.
China currently has three operational bases overseas. The most prominent is in Djibouti in East Africa, China’s first overseas naval base, established in 2017. In addition, there is the Ream naval base in Cambodia and the base under construction at Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan. Rojas says China enjoys a high degree of autonomy both at the base and around Ream, having already built a new port.
China to build satellite ground stations in Antarctica
The space industry news website, “China Space News” reported Feb. 2 that a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), has been awarded a contract to build a satellite ground system for ocean observation in Antarctica.
Ground station antennas at Zhongshan Station will support data collection from Chinese satellites orbiting in polar and near-polar orbits.
The proliferation of Chinese ground stations, despite assurances from officials that the stations would be for civilian use only, has led to concerns, particularly about construction in South America and now Antarctica.
A project group was stationed at Zhongshan Station with China’s 35th Antarctic Expedition Team in 2018 and spent 7 weeks investigating sites where antenna bases can be built and cables laid. Now the construction plans are to be substantiated.
“Building a satellite ground station in Antarctica is both an opportunity and a challenge for us,” said one member of the project team, given the hostile environment in Antarctica and the project’s limited theoretical research and methodology to learn from.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
More on the topic