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China establishes fourth research base in Antarctica

BEIJING — China has opened its fourth Antarctic research station, the State Oceanic Administration announced Saturday.

About 500 kilometres inland and 300 kilometres north of Scott Base at Terra Nova Bay, the Taishan station can accommodate 20 people during the December-March Antarctic summer, state media reported.

It would be unstaffed during the rest of the year.

Without making any territorial claims, China has been expanding its presence in the resource-rich region with plans for a fifth base, new icebreaker and fixed-wing aircraft. Polar exploration is an important field to develop, President Xi Jinping said in June.

At an altitude of 2,600 metres, Taishan will support research into climate change, bio-ecology, remote satellite sensing, geology, glaciers and geomagnetism, state media reported.

About 30 countries operate seasonal or year-round research stations on the continent, all signatories to the Antarctic Treaty that sets the area aside as a scientific preserve and bans military activity.

Great Britain was the first country in 1908 to claim Antarctic territory. New Zealand, France, Norway, Australia, Chile and Argentina have since lodged claims that remain mostly unrecognized.

China established its first base on King George's Island in 1985.

Equipped with a runway for fixed-wing aircraft, Taishan is expected to remain operational for the next 15 years, the Xinhua news agency reported.

About 1,600 wealthy Chinese visited last year as Antarctic tourism has surged, Qu Tanzhou, director of the office of polar expedition of China's State Oceanic Administration, told the Beijing Evening News.

On the January 31 start of the lunar new year, more than 100 Chinese tourists went penguin-spotting at Fildes Peninsula, the newspaper reported Thursday.

They also reportedly szs the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, which continued its research after participating in the rescue mission for a trapped Russian vessel in late December and early January.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Liu Simin urged the government to regulate and restrict tourism to prevent ecological damage and inappropriate behaviour.
 

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