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Chilean officials meet in Antarctica to underline territorial claims

DEFENCE officials from Chile convened a meeting in Antarctica on Thursday in a bid to bolster their claim to the territory as tensions escalate over Russia’s manoeuvres in the polar region.

Politicians from Chile’s parliamentary defence committee flew to a desolate air base for a meeting billed as an assertion of national sovereignty.

“We are going to be sitting in Antarctica in an act of sovereignty, of safeguarding and supporting our national integrity in the face of any threats,” said committee member Camila Flores, singling out Russia as posing such a threat.

The politicians revealed little about their talks at the base beyond saying they addressed “the prevailing geopolitical conditions” on the continent that contains vast reserves of mineral resources, fresh water — and no government.

The meeting comes amid a recent frenzy of media reports surrounding Russia’s purported discovery of massive oil reserves in Antarctica back in 2020, when the Russian polar research vessel Alexander Karpinsky reportedly uncovered a quantity of crude oil amounting to 500 billion barrels.

The issue resurfaced earlier this month in Britain during a parliamentary session where experts warned that Russia’s geological surveys could jeopardise the decades-long ban on mining in the region.

The reports rattled Chile and Argentina, among the seven countries that assert claims of sovereignty over parts of the demilitarised continent.

Russia’s surveys took place in the Weddell Sea, where Chile’s territorial claims overlap with those of Britain and Argentina, according to documents presented to the British Parliament.

“We are going to continue defending what we believe is fair,” said Francisco Undurraga, head of Chile’s defence committee, condemning the “crafty aspirations” of nations rushing to assert greater influence over Antarctica in an increasingly energy-hungry world.

When reports of Russian resource-extraction projects surfaced earlier this month, Argentina demanded to know whether Russia had scientific or economic intentions.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric promised to “firmly oppose any commercial exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.”

Historic tensions over Antarctic claims have also re-emerged between Mr Boric’s left-wing government and Argentina’s far-right government.

In an effort to reshape Argentina’s foreign policy in line with the United States, Argentinian President Javier Milei last month announced the construction of a southern naval base, with US involvement, to help Argentina stake claim to Antarctica, drawing complaints from Chile’s Foreign Ministry.

Geopolitical competition is just the latest issue to test the 53-nation Antarctic Treaty, which in 1959 enshrined the territory as a scientific preserve used only for peaceful purposes.

Rising sea levels due to climate change, unregulated tourism and krill fishing in the Southern Ocean are just a few other challenges that the consensus-based system is struggling to address.

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