China’s fast-growing logistical and scientific capability in Antarctica and more active participation in Antarctic affairs continue to draw attention and scrutiny. In recent years, China has notably spoken about striking a “balance between protection and use” in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM). Vagaries in China’s Antarctic policy have led to suspicions about the country’s long-term ambition on the continent, with some worried about the potential for destabilisation of the Antarctic Treaty System regime caused by China’s desire for mineral resources.
The absence of overt conflict in Antarctica does not mean cooperation is thriving. Missing the elements of coercion and mistaking cooperation for a static concept in the Antarctic means stakeholders are at risk of strategic complacency.