During a visit to Tasmania on February 22th, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an 804.4 million Australian dollars package (US$ 580 million) to the Antarctic Strategic Research Program.

The major spending comes as China extends its presence and operations in the difficult-to-reach Antarctic interior. Australia claims the territory of 5.9 million square kilometers of the continent or 42% of it.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the fund would be dedicated to scientific research and a fleet of surveillance drones, helicopters, and others to help Australia’s regional security and monitor Chinese movements.

According to a released statement, he said, “My Government will continue to back our world-class scientists and expeditioners with the necessary funding and resources, because their research on the frozen continent and in the southern ocean is critically important to Australia’s future.”

Australia’s claims to the Antarctic date back to the early 1910s. Australian explorer Douglas Mawson led several expeditions to Antarctica from 1911 to 1931, during which he claimed the area that was part of the Australian Antarctic Territory as a sovereign possession of the British Empire. In early 1933 Britain swore sovereignty over this area and divided the Antarctic Territory under the Commonwealth of Australia.

According to 9News, Morrison told reporters that “not everybody respects” treaties in the area when asked about China’s presence in the continent.

He said, “(China doesn’t) share the same objectives as Australia as a treaty nation when it comes to protecting Antarctica. It is very important that we are very clear in our understanding about what activities are being undertaken there and that there is accountability and transparency around that.”

The Australian prime minister continued, “We need to ensure that the Antarctic remains a place of science and conservation, one that is free from conflict and which is protected from exploitation.”

With the package, the Australian government plans to build more stations on the Antarctic continent to support the rules of the treaty system and promote Australia’s leadership in Antarctic affairs.

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