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Eyes wide open: Managing the Australia-China Antarctic relationship

By Anthony Bergin and Tony Press

Given recent broader tensions in the China–Australia relationship, China’s global ambitions, lack of progress on key Antarctic policy initiatives and the potential for significant geopolitical consequences for the future of Antarctica and for Australia’s strategic interests, it’s important that Australian policymakers reconsider our long-term Antarctic policy settings.

The report found no clear evidence that China is violating the Antarctic Treaty. But it argues we should apply a more sharply focused assessment of the costs and benefits of cooperation, given China’s more assertive international posture and increasing interests in Antarctica.

The recommendations in the report are designed to maximise the value and mitigate the downside risks of China engagement for our Antarctic and broader national interests. Overall, we should adopt a more transactional approach in our Antarctic engagement with China, making it clear what we require from cooperation and what we expect from China.

Given the track record Beijing has in moving rapidly on a broad front, as it’s done in the South China Sea, we need to be prepared to respond to a rapid increase in the speed and scale of China’s actions in Antarctica.