Chinese Alarmed Over Antarctic Battle

Source: ABC

By political reporter Jackson Gothe-Snape

A new research base is reportedly stoking Chinese fears of a territorial “battle” in Antarctica.

Key points:

  • A Hong Kong newspaper reported on the emerging “battle” in Antarctica
  • The story quoted an unnamed Chinese government researcher concerned about a new US base near a Chinese facility deep within the Australian Antarctic Territory
  • No such base exists, according to Antarctic experts

There’s just one problem: experts believe the facility simply doesn’t exist.

The situation has angered scientists who maintain a spirit of co-operation on the southern continent.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, acquired by Chinese businessman Jack Ma in 2016, reported this week that a base set up by the US was an “attempt to block” plans by China to formally manage the region and it “appears to be backed by the US military”.

“It is a battle of political will, military power, global influence … and it has been heating up noticeably in recent months,” the article stated, quoting an unnamed Chinese government researcher.

The article described a US base “about 100 kilometres” from Chinese station Kunlun in an area known as “Dome A”. It’s deep inside the Australian Antarctic Territory.

However neither Australian officials or one of Australia’s leading astrophysicists are aware of any such station. Enquiries by the ABC to Chinese and US Antarctic programs and embassies yielded no further information.

The nearest US-linked operation was a remote telescope deployed at “Ridge A”, 150km from the Chinese base, in 2012.

A map showing the highest parts of Antarctica

INFOGRAPHIC: This map shows the locations of Dome A and Ridge A, deep within Antarctica. (Supplied: University of Arizona)

But according to UNSW’s Michael Ashley — who led that project alongside researchers from the University of Arizona — it was removed earlier this year.

“The field station was scheduled for removal in January 2018, as per the usual protocol of cleaning up after you have finished with a field station,” he said.

“However, strongly corrugated snow caused the Twin Otter aircraft landing to be aborted after a couple of attempts.

“The pull-out mission was rescheduled for January 2019, and this time the Twin Otter was able to land, and a team of four people spent over 10 days there — living in tents, at a pressure altitude of 4,500m, and temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius — disassembling the equipment and packing it into multiple return flights.

“Ridge A is now just marked by footprints and the ski marks of the Twin Otters.”

Geopolitical tensions

China has been seeking to set up a “specially managed area” (ASMA) around its remote base at Dome A, the highest point in the Antarctic ice sheet.

ASMAs help cooperation in busy areas and are managed by a single country or group of countries. For example, the ASMA at the South Pole requires incoming aircraft to notify the US.

The area at Dome A has been identified as the best location for space observation on the planet.

The site is within Australia’s Antarctic claim but China can still pursue an ASMA because of a unique arrangement for administration of the southern continent.

The Antarctic Treaty has put all claims on hold and instead encourages nations involved in Antarctica to co-operate. It also bans mining and military activity.

However, China’s efforts to establish an ASMA at Dome A so far have been rebuffed by other nations involved in Antarctica.

A camp in Antarctica with tents on a cloudless day

PHOTO: The camp when packing up the Ridge A technology in January 2019. (Supplied: Craig Kulesa, University of Arizona)

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said “Australia has strong bilateral cooperation and regular engagement with both the United States and China on Antarctic matters”.

“For many decades, the Antarctic Treaty system has contributed towards strategic stability on the continent through its prohibition on military measures and nuclear testing, its freedom of scientific investigation and requirement to cooperate, and protection of positions on sovereign claims.”

Australia has made a claim to 42 per cent of Antarctica, linked to its long tradition of exploration and research in the area, most notably by Douglas Mawson.

Map showing claims of countries to Antarctica

INFOGRAPHIC: Australia has a claim to 42 per cent of Antarctica. (Supplied: Geoscience Australia)

Close friendships

The South China Morning Post article claimed China was the first nation to reach the remote plain of ice, at 4,093 metres above sea level, in a land expedition in 2005.

The University of Canterbury’s Anne-Marie Brady believes an ASMA in the region is seen by the Chinese government as “soft presence”, or a “subtle way for a state to control territory”.

“But China’s ASMA plan does not meet criteria, so its proposal has continually been blocked by other Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties,” she wrote on Twitter.

“The next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is in Prague [in July]. You can be sure that the [Chinese Government] will put the Dome A ASMA on the agenda.”

A tent in Antarctica on a cloudless day

PHOTO: A tent stands deep within Antarctica at Ridge A in January 2019. (Supplied: Craig Kulesa, University of Arizona)

Having failed to win consensus for its ASMA proposal in 2016, China commenced negotiations on a code of conduct for the area.

Professor Ashley played down any notion of a “battle” in Antarctica.

“Australian and Chinese astronomers have had close collaborations — and friendships — for more than a decade at Kunlun.”

“We work on joint projects where scientific equipment is designed and built by both sides, and has to come together perfectly, and in time for the annual traverse to Kunlun, to be successful.”

The ANU’s Tony Travouillon, another Antarctic astronomy expert, said claims of tensions were “dangerous to the current state of the relationship between the countries — which is extremely positive”.

“We have countries like China and the US that are normally not working so well — but on Antarctica, you have all countries working in unison.

“No bad blood, no political restrictions.”

Massive Ancient Statue Discovered Submerged In Mud In Cairo

Source: NPR

A quartzite colossus possibly of Ramses II and limestone bust of Seti II have been discovered at the ancient Heliopolis archaeological site in the Matariya area of Cairo.

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Archaeologists working under difficult conditions in Cairo have discovered an ancient statue submerged in mud.

A joint German-Egyptian research team found the 8-meter (26-foot) quartzite statue beneath the water level in a Cairo slum and suggests that it depicts Ramses II,according to Reuters.

The team was working at what was once Heliopolis, one of the oldest cities in ancient Egypt and the cult center for the sun god.

Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s antiquities minister, posted on Facebook that one of the researchers who found the statue called it “one of the most important archaeological discoveries.”

Anani also spoke to Reuters at the site of the statue’s unveiling. Here’s more from the wire service:

“The most powerful and celebrated ruler of ancient Egypt, the pharaoh also known as Ramses the Great was the third of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt and ruled from 1279 to 1213 BCE. … His successors called him the ‘Great Ancestor.’

” ‘We found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye,’ Anani said.

“On Thursday, archaeologists, officials, local residents, and members of the news media looked on as a massive forklift pulled the statue’s head out of the water.”

In addition to the massive statue, researchers also found part of a life-size limestone statue of Ramses II’s grandson, Pharaoh Seti II, Reuters says.

Egyptian workers look at the site of a new discovery by a team of German-Egyptian archaeologists in Cairo’s Matariya District on Thursday.

Khaled Desouki /AFP/Getty Images

The identification of the newly discovered colossus as the famous Ramses II is not yet confirmed, as Anani explained on Facebook:

“Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, the head of the Egyptian team, indicated that they are going now to complete the research and excavation work of the remaining sections of the statue to confirm the identity of its owner. On the discovered portions there is no inscription found that would make it possible to determine which king it is. But its discovery in front of the gate of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II suggests that it is likely him.”

Ashmawy and Dietrich Raue, of the University of Leipzig, have been working in ancient Heliopolis for more than a decade under trying conditions, as the American Research Center in Egypt explained in 2015:

“Heliopolis once stood at the centre of the ancient Egyptian sun-cult, a core element of ancient Egyptian religion for more than three millennia. Today the site is seriously threatened by new construction and a rapidly rising water table. Eight meters of domestic and industrial waste as well as building rubble have been dumped on the site in the past four years. Added to this bleak scenario is the fact that the level of the water table on the site has risen alarmingly, and continues to do so.”

As of 2015, ARCE explained, the archaeological items in Heliopolis were submerged in 1 1/2 to 3 feet of water — a “most challenging environment” for archaeologists to work in, ARCE writes.

The discovery of a forgotten, submerged statue of Ramses II brings to mind one of the most famous poems in English literature — albeit substituting muck for desert sands.


An Egyptian worker stands next to the head of a statue at the site of a new discovery by a team of German-Egyptian archaeologists in Cairo’s Matariya District.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Ramses II was known to the Greeks as Ozymandias. Today, that name is most familiar thanks to a sonnet on hubris and the implacable passage of time, by Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

That poem is widely believed to have been inspired by a broken statue of Ramses II that is now, like many priceless Egyptian artifacts, in the possession of the British Museum.

The newly discovered statue won’t be traveling nearly so far. Once restored and its identity confirmed, it may be placed at the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is expected to open in Cairo in 2018.

NPR’s Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.