BEIJING: China sought to dispel concerns about its ambitions in mineral-rich Antarctica on Monday (May 22), with an official saying Beijing has no plans to start mining in the vast continent.
China's expanding activities in polar regions is a focal point as Beijing hosts the annual meeting of the Antarctic Treaty for the first time.
About 400 delegates from 42 countries and 10 international bodies were attending the forum, which kicked off Monday and ends Jun 1.
"There is still a gap between the goal of peaceful development of Antarctica's resources and our understanding of Antarctica," Lin Shanqing, deputy head of the State Oceanic Administration, told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.
Lin did not answer a question on what he meant by peaceful resource development but he stressed that China's Antarctic expeditions "focus on boosting our understanding of the Antarctic and to better conserve the Antarctic environment".
"According to my knowledge, China has made no plans for mining activity in Antarctica," Lin added.
Experts have raised concerns that China harbours a long-term goal of extracting resources from the continent, which the Antarctic Treaty currently forbids. However, a protocol of the treaty forbidding raw material removal activity from the continent comes into review in 2048.
"2048 seems like a long way away, but ... there have been concerns raised that Beijing is pursuing a long-term 'hedging' strategy in case the continent is thrown open to resource development, including mining and oil and gas drilling, in the future," Marc Lanteigne, lecturer on Chinese foreign policy at Massey University, told AFP.
"However, at present China is taking great care to stress the scientific aspects of its polar policies, promote cooperation with other governments, and dispel concerns that it is a revisionist power in Antarctica," Lanteigne said.
Various countries maintain bases in Antarctica, a shared space for scientific research under the 1959 international treaty, which China joined in 1983.
China currently has four research stations on the continent and a fifth is planned for 2019, which would put China on par with the US in number of bases.
"Hosting the meeting in Beijing is an opportunity for China to acquire international acceptance of their (newly) prominent position in Antarctic affairs," said Anne-Marie Brady, specialist in Chinese and polar politics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
China may not be seeking any changes to existing Antarctic law in the immediate future, Brady told AFP.
But she noted they have been "reluctant to expand conservation measures, as demonstrated by their opposition to proposals for marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean".