Biggest Chinese Antarctic fleet sails to build research station

Context: China has sent its biggest fleet comprising two icebreakers and a cargo vessel to Antarctica. China aims to establish its fifth research station on the world’s southernmost continent. 

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Antarctica is the only continent in the world where there has never been war, the environment is fully protected, and scientific research has priority. To protect this distinguished character countries came together to conclude a treaty in 1959.

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  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve nations that had been active during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-58. 
  • It entered into force in 1961 and has since been acceded to by many other nations. The total number of Parties to the Treaty is now 56.
  • India became a signatory in the year 1983.

Original signatory of this treaty

1Argentina7New Zealand
3Belgium9South Africa
4Chile10United Kingdom
5France11United States
6Japan12Erstwhile USSR

Key provisions of the treaty

The treaty provides for various provisions related to peaceful research activities in Antarctica some of them are as follows:

  • It stipulates that Antarctica should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, military activities, such as the establishment of military bases or weapons testing, are specifically prohibited;
  • It guarantees continued freedom to conduct scientific research, as enjoyed during the IGY;
  • Promotes international scientific cooperation including the exchange of research plans and personnel, and requires that results of research be made freely available;
  • Sets aside the potential for sovereignty disputes between Treaty parties by providing that no activities will enhance or diminish previously asserted positions concerning territorial claims, provides that no new or enlarged claims can be made, and makes rules relating to jurisdiction;
  • Prohibits nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste;
  • Provides for inspection by observers, designated by any party, of ships, stations and equipment in Antarctica to ensure the observance of, and compliance with, the Treaty;
  • Requires parties to give advance notice of their expeditions; provides for the parties to meet periodically to discuss measures to further the objectives of the Treaty; and
  • Puts in place a dispute settlement procedure and a mechanism by which the Treaty can be modified.
  • The Treaty also provides that any member of the United Nations can accede to it.

India and Antarctica

  • India signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1983.
  • India ratified the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in 1985.
  • India signed Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in 1998. (Madrid Protocol)
  • India’s research stations in Antarctica: Dakshin Gangotri (De-commissioned now); Maitri and Bharati. Managed by National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Goa under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • Nov 2021: India launched its 41st Scientific Expedition to Antarctica.

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