Proposed Australian Law Could Implicate China’s Access to Antarctic Logistics Gateway in Tasmania

On August 27, Australia’s federal government indicated that a newly proposed foreign investment security law would grant the government authority to retrospectively review and potentially veto agreements made between local governments and public institutions in Australia, with foreign governments (such as China).

If passed, it is speculated that this law could subject to scrutiny a number of past Chinese cooperation and investment agreements, including Tasmania’s 2013 Antarctic cooperation agreement with China’s State Oceanic Administration, which gives Chinese ships access to dock and receive technical support at Tasmania’s Port of Hobart, which is regarded as a critical “logistics gateway” for Antarctic expeditions.

During the period since, Tasmania has become China’s primary Antarctic gateway and resupply center, seemingly also benefitting local businesses that supply and service these ships. Per the agreement, China is committed to conducting regular port calls to Hobart Port by its Antarctic icebreakers, such as Xue Long and Xue Long 2. It is also expected that the port may eventually host China’s first nuclear-powered icebreakers. 

As such, the port agreement has become an example of China’s economic influence in Tasmania, which counted Beijing as its largest export partner in 2019.  Experts have reportedly warned that China’s economic influence over Tasmania could be used to leverage greater influence over Australian politics and China’s Antarctic ambitions.

At present, China operates four permanent research stations in the Antarctic and other purported logistics and research facilities. A fifth research center is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed by 2022. Among other considerations, the South Pole is also geographically important for the effective deployment of global satellite navigation systems. China has already reportedly deployed Beidou ground satellite receiving and processing stations at the Antarctic research stations that have dual-use potential.