Reassessing Australia-China ties in Antarctica

April 04 2024

Australia’s 2023 Defence Strategic Review states that the country’s 'primary area of military interest' is to the North, spanning the Northeast Indian Ocean, maritime Southeast Asia to the Pacific. In this region, the principal source of Canberra’s strategic anxiety is the People's Republic of China (PRC). Yet absent from this definition of the Indo-Pacific is the southern flank and a continent on which Beijing is increasingly interested - Antarctica.

For decades, Canberra predominantly viewed Beijing’s Antarctic presence as strategically benign. Indeed, it was largely seen an opportunity to engage with the PRC, particularly in joint scientific research to mutual benefit. However, as Beijing’s geopolitical differences with Washington have become more pronounced, there is growing unease about whether Canberra’s traditional approach to viewing the PRC in Antarctica is sustainable.

How has Canberra’s risk assessment of the PRC’s Antarctic policy changed over recent years? Has Beijing’s risk assessment of cooperating with Australia also shifted? What practical benefits have decades of joint scientific research and working together within the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) delivered and what does the future look like? Are mitigations available both in and outside the ATS that might calm concerns of renewed great power competition in Antarctica? Or do Australians need to accept that Antarctica will increasingly become a region of competition and threat rather than cooperation and reassurance?

The Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS:ACRI) hosted a webinar with Dr Elizabeth Buchanan, Senior Fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute; Professor Tony Press, Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership at the University of Tasmania; and Ms Chen Xi, Research Fellow at the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University and UTS:ACRI Visiting Scholar, on a panel moderated by Professor James Laurenceson, UTS:ACRI Director, to address these questions and more. The discussion was followed by audience Q&A.

Time: 12.30pm – 1.30pm AEDT


transcript of the event is available.


About the speakers

Dr Elizabeth Buchanan

Dr Elizabeth Buchanan is an Australian polar geopolitics expert. She is a Senior Fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and an Expert Associate of the ANU National Security College. Dr Buchanan was most recently Head of Navy Research in the Department of Defence. She is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point Military Academy and holds a PhD in Russian Arctic Strategy.

Dr Buchanan was the Visiting Maritime Fellow at the NATO Defense College in Rome.  She has published widely including with War on the Rocks, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The Australian,  and the Lowy Institute. Dr Buchanan was research lead for a US State Department Antarctic security project. Elizabeth has also served as the Australian Parliamentary Library Research Fellow.

Dr Buchanan has been a Visiting Scholar with The Brookings Institution and has work experience in the global oil sector. Dr Buchanan has two published books: Russian Energy Strategy in Asia (ANU Press) and Red Arctic: Russian Arctic Strategy under Putin (The Brookings Institution Press). Her next books under contract are: How to Lose a Continent (Black Inc) and Competitive Cooperation at the Ends of the Earth (Yale University Press). 

Professor Tony Press AO

Dr Tony Press is an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, and the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership, at the University of Tasmania. He was formerly the CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre from 2009 to 2014; and Director of the Australian Antarctic Division from 1998 to 2009. He chaired the Antarctic Treaty’s Committee for Environmental Protection from 2002 to 2006; was Australia’s representative to the CEP and variously Head of Delegation and Alternative Representative to Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings from 1999 to 2008; and Australia’s Commissioner to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources from 1998 to 2008.

Dr Press provided the Australian Government with the 20 Year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan in 2014.

Ms Chen Xi

Ms Chen Xi is a Research Fellow at the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University and a UTS:ACRI Visiting Scholar. She has been conducting Australian studies since 2015 and published articles and reports, co-authored books and undertaken academic research projects at university and national levels. Her current research looks into the China-Australia Antarctic relations.


Event Information
April 04 2024
12:30 PM