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China's Interest in Antarctica

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Tags: China, Antarctica

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on the adjournment tonight about a matter we have raised in this place a number of times and I am going to do it again. I know it makes people uncomfortable in here but our job is to speak truth to power.

On Friday morning my mobile phone rang and it was a senior, respected Tasmanian who would be known to every person in this place. He picked up the Australian, turned to page 13 and said,

'Cassy, you wouldn't bloody believe it! He's over there in Beijing and he's sold us out again.'

What this senior, respected Tasmanian was talking about was an article that appeared in the Australian on Friday in which the Premier, who is missing from parliament this week because he is leading a delegation of Tasmanian business leaders, said in response to questions from the Australian, that allegations that Beijing's interests in the region of Antarctica could have military overtones, 'don't stack up.' He said:

“It is not the view of our Government or the national government. On the contrary, China's engagement with Australia and Tasmania as the national gateway to Antarctica has always been a positive experience.”

As a Tasmanian, I was embarrassed by the Premier's ignorance. On Friday I described him as a fool, naïve, a coward or all of the above. It was cowardice because, as we know, the Premier was at a function at which he was being feted by the Chinese Communist Party. Adam Ni, who is a respected China researcher at the Australian National University Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, tweeted immediately in response:

“What an ignorant statement from Will Hodgman. China has space ground stations in Antarctica. These stations are key in the network of stations that come under an entity that reports directly to China's space force, the strategic support force of the People's Liberation Army.”

In the Mercury on Saturday we had a response from the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, who said, 'Researchers are in fact concerned about China's expansion in the Antarctic.' He suggested Mr Hodgman request a briefing from federal intelligence agencies on the issue, saying:

“A lot of this is designed in the benign language of scientific cooperation but I think there are people who are concerned, and I am one of them, that China is scoping out the continent for resources.”

Madam Speaker, I will seek the leave of the House to table this excellent world-leading research paper from the University of Canterbury's Professor Anne-Marie Brady titled China's Expanding Antarctic Interests: Implications for New Zealand. I would like to read out some of the evidence that is now before governments in Australia, Tasmania and the Asia-Pacific region about the CCP's aggressive moves on the Antarctic continent. This paper makes it clear that some of China's interests and activities in Antarctica appear to breach the terms of the Antarctic Treaty. It says:

“China's core agenda and activities in Antarctica have a direct connection to China's maritime interests and expanding forward defence capabilities in the Indo-Asia Pacific.”

To raise these concerns is not conjecture or, as Mr Gutwein said in this House this morning, xenophobic. It is based on solid evidence, the result of 10 years of research into official Chinese sources and extensive interviews. The paper that the Premier should have read before he opened his mouth in Beijing says:

“Antarctic geopolitics are shifting rapidly and the clash between those states who promote environmental protection in Antarctica and those who are focused on accessing available resources there is becoming more acute. China has undeclared military activities in Antarctica, is building up a case for territorial claim and is engaging in mineral exploration there.”

I want it on the record of Hansard that Mr Jaensch and Mr Hidding have been having a good old chuckle making fun of me while I have been raising these issues in this place. These are the same people who bandy around the word 'xenophobia' without actually knowing what it means. The paper goes on further to say:

“Chinese President Xi Jinping first publicly referred to China as a polar great power when he visited Australia in November 2014 but his officials raised the term in public in 2005. In the Chinese political system polar affairs are part of maritime affairs, thus becoming a great polar power is a key component of China's maritime strategy.”

It goes on to talk about detailed evidence of China's military activities in Antarctica, its efforts to build up a case for territorial claim and its extensive mineral exploration activities. For those members of the House who are not versed in any detail of the Antarctic Treaty, it expires in 2048.

The purpose of the Antarctic Treaty was to clarify to the greatest extent possible the question of sovereignty over the Antarctic and to make sure that it was a continent based on peace and science activities, but now China is building its fifth base in Antarctica. It will be completed in 2022 and, no surprises, the five bases it has built are in the areas of reportedly greatest mineral prospectivity.

This is the sort of information the Premier should have availed himself of before he went on a junket to China because he has actually compromised national security by standing there in front of a CCP and saying to them, 'Bring your ships to Hobart. There is no national security issue or concern with Chinese activity in the Antarctic.'. He is deluded because the evidence is there for him. He has been offered a briefing, he has researchers who know about this calling him ignorant, and yet we get the sort of garbage I got from Mr Gutwein and we get from Mr Jaensch and Mr Hidding in here in response to legitimate, serious, evidence-based concerns about the activities of the CCP in Antarctica.

Madam Speaker, just last week apparently the Tasmanian Government, through Will Hodgman on behalf of the state of Tasmania, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Strategic Oceans Institute of Antarctica. This paper talks about the People's Liberation Army Navy which works in close partnership with the state oceanic administration to coordinate China's evolving polar strategy. The state oceanic administration is the state-owned and controlled entity that Will Hodgman signed an MOU with last week that has not yet been made public.

The State Oceanic Administration and the People's Liberation Army and Navy rotate some of their leading personnel, so polar expertise will overlap between the two agencies. SOA vessels -

Members interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will be back every single night until this message is clear.