Henry Páll Wulff
Expedition Guide, Naturalist
Photographer, Author, Podcaster, Traveler, Educator
China's aim to declare a special managed area at the ice sheet’s highest point is a test of Antarctic governance. China has become more and more active in Antarctica in recent years – both in research and in the international framework of agreements known as the Antarctic Treaty System that has successfully seen the frozen continent devoted to peace and science for decades. Establishing an ASMA around the Kunlun Station in the area known as Dome Argus (Dome A), the highest place on the Antarctic ice sheet would essentially give China a greater say in the activities conducted in the area. China is a consultative party to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and the creation of an ASMA around Kunlun would serve as a symbolic achievement to showcase China’s influence in the ATS. The proposal was first raised in 2013 – the year President Xi Jinping took office, where from outset he emphasised the importance of the emerging economy playing a key role in global governance. The proposal for Antarctica reflected what has been a general shift in Chinese diplomacy under Xi, from an attitude of “keep low” to “being active” in the international arena. While China’s enthusiasm is clear, several countries oppose this proposal, with the stand-off holding implications for future Antarctic governance. Legally speaking, China argues its proposal for Dome A is to protect the important environmental value of the area. Opponents however believe that an ASMA is essential only when more than one country is conducting activities in the same area, where coordination is required to avoid negative effects for the environment. So far, China is the only country to operate in the Dome A area. Nevertheless, behind polite, diplomatic debates, some alarmist views bluntly reveal that there is a fear China might consolidate its presence in a large area around Dome A.