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Heading south

向南进发

The voyage of two icebreakers have been creating headlines in China

两艘破冰船之旅上了中国头条

Their journey confirms that its dreams of becoming a ”polar great power” involve Antarctica, too

破冰船之旅证明,中国的“极地大国”梦也涵盖南极



For weeks Chinese state media have been proudly reporting the progress of two icebreakers, Xue Long and Xue Long 2, on their voyage to Antarctica. China has maintained research bases in the Earth’s southernmost region since the 1980s, but the approach of these vessels (their names mean “snow dragon”) has been described as the start of a “new era” for the country’s exploration there. Of about 20 countries that have year-round bases on the continent, China’s activities are growing fastest.

最近几周,中国国家媒体连续报道“雪龙1号和2号”前往南极考察的最新进展。上世纪80年代以来,中国一直在地球最南端保留着研究基地,但驶来的“雪龙”破冰船被誉为开启中国探索南极的“新时代”。在南极大陆建有常年性基地的20个国家中,中国的活动增长最快。



The Antarctic has fewer obvious potential benefits for China’s economy. But it is abuzz with Chinese activity. Last year China began building its first permanent airport in the region. Chinese tourists have been piling in: between 2015 to 2018, their numbers more than doubled to about 8,100—second only to the number of American sightseers. In July an American air-force general warned that Antarctica was “just a number of years” away from becoming as competitive an area as the Arctic, where great powers are jostling for economic and strategic advantages.

南极给中国经济带来的潜在益处不那么明显,但中国在这里活动频繁。去年,中国开始在南极建造首座永久机场。中国游客蜂拥而至:从2015至2018年,中国游客的数量增加一倍多,大约达到8100人——仅次于美国游客人数。今年7月,一位美国空军上将提出警告说,南极“用不了几年”也将成为像北极一样的必争之地,大国正在北极争夺经济和战略优势。

Such rivalry is supposed to be absent in Antarctica. It is governed by the 54 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, which China joined in 1983. One aim of the 60-year-old pact is to keep Antarctica free of military activity (unlike the Arctic, which is teeming with it). China says it supports that.

南极应该不会出现这种对抗。该地区现由《南极条约》的54个签约国共同管理,中国于1983年加入该条约。该条约签署了60年,一个目标是让南极远离军事活动(北极充满军事活动),中国声称支持这一目标。

But some Western analysts are suspicious. Elizabeth Buchanan of the Australian National University says the treaty has loopholes. It allows countries to use legitimate scientific study as a cover for military and economic projects. China has installed equipment in Antarctica related to its satellite-navigation system, Beidou—which since this year has been operating more satellites than its American equivalent, gps. The kit boosts the accuracy of weather maps but also improves missile precision, says Anne-Marie Brady, author of “China as a Polar Great Power”. Some Western military analysts believe that the crew on China’s icebreakers, though dressed as civilians, are really military personnel.

然而,一些西方分析人士表示质疑。澳大利亚国立大学的伊丽莎白·布坎南表示,该条约存在漏洞,能使国家在合法科研的掩护下发展军事和经济项目。中国在南极安装的设备与“北斗”卫星导航系统有关——今年以来控制的卫星数量已超过美国同类系统GPS。该设备能提高气象图的精确度,但也能提高导弹的精确度,《中国极地大国》一书的作者安妮-玛丽·布雷迪说道。西方一些军事分析人士认为,中国破冰船上的船员在穿着上是平民,实则军事人员。



Western polar experts are divided over how much to worry about China’s Antarctic moves. Some believe the country’s main aim is to develop “soft power”, such as by co-operating with other countries in scientific research. All agree on one thing, however. China wants a high profile there.

中国在南极的动向应引起多大程度的担忧,西方极地专家对此存在分歧。有专家认为,中国的主要目标是为了发展“软实力”,例如在科研领域与其他国家开展合作。但有一点共识是,中国希望在南极受到关注。