Washington-based think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), recently published an article discussing China’s resumption of construction on its fifth research station in Antarctica, raising concerns about potential dual-use infrastructure for intercepting satellite communications.
The article, titled “Frozen Frontiers: China’s Great Power Ambitions,” highlights Chinese ambitions to construct new research facilities in both Antarctica and the Arctic. While international law, under the Antarctic Treaty System of 1959, forbids the use of the continent for military purposes, scientific research is permitted, providing a degree of latitude for dual-use operations.
A 2022 report from the US Department of Defense suggests that China is utilizing various global territories to enhance its space infrastructure, exemplified by the controversial ground station in Argentina, operational since 2012. Additionally, the report states that Antarctic ground stations may serve as reference stations for China’s dual-use BeiDou satellite navigation network, which rivals the US’s GPS and Europe’s Galileo systems.
The resumption of construction on China’s fifth Antarctic research station, confirmed by satellite images from Maxar Technologies, has raised concerns among some countries. The new research outpost reportedly does not include military equipment but will be equipped with an observatory and a satellite ground station, potentially enabling intelligence gathering and interception of satellite communications.
CSIS analysts also suggest that the research station’s location near the coast of the Ross Sea, close to New Zealand and Australia, could facilitate the collection of telemetry data concerning rocket launches from recently established space facilities in both countries.
In February, China’s state-owned aerospace company, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced plans to construct two ground stations at the Zhongshan base in East Antarctica to support its growing network of ocean-monitoring satellites. This infrastructure has also raised suspicions from the US regarding its potential use for espionage.