Expedition to Antarctica

Jiange Li, President of Central Huijin Investment Company Limited


On November 19, I flew a Lufthansa flight to Buenos Aires from Beijing with a transfer in Frankfurt for 7 hours with other participants of the Antarctic Forum. After two days’ rest in Buenos Aires, 168 participants of the Forum took a chartered flight to Ushuaia, the southernmost town on the earth.


We stayed for 6 to 7 hours in Ushuaia, a small town where there was a population of less than 50,000. Actually, it took just one hour to walk around the main street and everyone took photos wherever they wanted. Of course, we Chinese wouldn’t give up the opportunities to taste the local food. In a while, the spider crabs in the local restaurants were sold out.


The Antarctic Forum took place on Le Boreal, the first class cruise ship of French Compagnie Du Ponant. The cruise yacht tailor-made for voyages to polar regions was an anti-wave ice-breaker. So it is reliable in terms of security and anti-seasick performance.


The Antarctic Forum was initiated jointly by the Chinese council of the Antarctic Forum supported by the government, major international organizations and well-known universities. I participated as a specially invited speaker. The members of the forum were leaders in the fields such as economy, politics, culture, technology, religion, arts, sports, finance and business from China, USA, Britain, France and Sweden. The oldest participant was Ji Liu, the former vice-president of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and honorary dean of China Europe International Business School who was 80 years old. Qide Yan of 74 years old, China’s first leader of the Great Wall Station in Antarctica had a return visit. Yujun Bao, the former associate Editor-in-Chief of China Daily, the former vice-chairman of national chamber of commerce, director of national private enterprise association also participated in the forum.


We could only see the boundless sea when passing the Drake Passage during the first 2 days after Le Boreal set sail. It was boring and rocking. This channel named after a British was located between Cape Horn in the southernmost of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. It was also the deepest and widest channel on the earth with strongest winds and waves. It put together warm and cold ocean currents from the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Southern Ocean. It was located in the strong wind region formed by the atmospheric circulation of the southern hemisphere. So the winds and waves here were fierce particularly. Therefore, Drake Passage was regarded as ‘the most dangerous dark sea’ by sailors and adventurers. Luckily, it was fine when we were there and slight shaking was tolerable.


Safety drills and Antarctica protection education were held on board in the first 2 days, which were compulsory procedures regulated by international organizations. These were also good   arrangements to kill time. There were lectures on various topics, theme concerts and salon style free talks organized by the Antarctic Forum. So we didn’t feel bored but were excited instead to see Antarctica soon.


The first place for us to set foot on was the Deception Island on November 24. It was hard to find out how the island got its name. One story was that an explorer assumed mistakenly that he had arrived in Antarctica when he landed on the island at the beginning. But he found himself deceived when he climbed to the mountain top and that the Antarctic continent was farther away. The cave on the top of the mountain from which the Antarctic continent could be overlooked was named after the explorer. Another story was that originally the island appeared very calm but actually there was hidden danger. So it was very deceptive. Several countries had set up their whaling stations on the island. But they were destroyed during a volcanic eruption several years ago. Relics of the whaling stations could still be seen on the island.


It was exciting and a little breathtaking to have the assault boat landing for the first time. We took the water-proof Parkas, trousers and boots and wore sunglasses and water-proof hats and gloves. We also took life jackets on the parkas. We were fully covered and couldn’t move our hands or feet easily. An assault boat was like a leaf in the sea, floating with waves. Splashes of cold sea water often wetted our whole bodies. Everyone took precautions to prevent their cameras from being wet according to reminders beforehand.


We felt excited instead of thrilled during all the coming landings afterwards although there were even stronger winds and greater waves. Everyone trusted the ship crew and believed that they were adequately experienced and legally responsible for risk assessment so that they were cautious without any carelessness.


We landed on the islands mainly to enjoy the sight of snow and to approach penguins, sea lions and seals. When it was too windy to land on the island, we took assault boats to cruise amid the floating ices of different shapes. Ice shelves on land pushed downwards for a long time and floated slowly so that the ice walls on the coast kept melting. Ice walls broke and fell into sea so that floating ices were formed. The spectacle of icefall was most remarkable from December to next February every year. The rise of the temperature of sea water accelerated the melting of the front of the ice wall. So the possibility of the occurrence of icefall increased. 


When I saw the spectacle that the ice wall fell like a landslide or a tidal wave and stirred huge waves, I was shocked. There were iceburgs and ice floes that had fallen from ice walls floating on the Antarctic Ocean from time to time. It was said that the greatest floating ice was as big as France. The proportion of the part above the water compared with the part under the water was about 1:4. The chunks of floating ice, big or small, were shinning like crystals under the sun and their parts under the water looked blue with cold beauty. They were in different shapes. Some seemed carved by the God, comparable with rarest mountain stones. Light green color was reflected in the ice crack.


The Antarctic Forum consisted of international conferences. There were several video conferences held in Antarctica connected by satellite with USA and Europe. There were over 10 lectures on special topics, dialogues, talks and salons. Besides one theme presentation, I had a heated dialogue with Professor Xu, Xiaonian, my old friend and colleague, who was a famous opinion leader in the current economic circle. The atmosphere on the site was quite warm. Some
entrepreneurs that I met for the first time made several appointments with me to have close and in-depth discussions. They raised questions about economic situations, policies, systems and the development of their own enterprises. I might not be able to give them answers but I made friends with them.


It was most exciting that we visited China’s Great Wall Station in Antarctica and greeted 18 scientists who stayed there day and night. On the morning of November 28, we took assault boats to arrive at the Great Wall Station in batches. We listened to their introduction in their plain meeting room and restaurant and visited their dormitories and working rooms. In the snow field with the logo of the Great Wall Station, I was elected to give a speech on behalf of the Forum. ‘You win honors for the motherland. We are proud of you.’ We extended our respect to the 18 heroes. We presented to them a remembrance and some fresh fruits and vegetables as gifts. Now our country has got stronger. The conditions in the Great Wall Station have also got better. The fresh food they need for their daily life is delivered by air from Chile. Finally, we sang ‘the same song’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ loudly under the national flag in the snow field with the scientist team. 


China’s Great Wall Station in Antarctica was completed in February in 1985 on the south of George King Island of Fildes Peninsula. China’s Zhongshan Station was completed on Larsemann Hills in Antarctica in April, 1989. In January 2009, China’s Kunlun Station was founded, 7.3 kilometers away from the Antarctic dome. The new Tai Mountain Station is under construction. China has participated in the science research actively and announced to the world the presence of an emerging power in Antarctica.


China participated in the scientific expedition to the South Pole based on the principles of the Antarctic Treaty. China entered the Antarctic Treaty organization in June 1983 and was accepted as consultative status in October 1985. The main content of the Antarctic Treaty officially entering into force on June 23, 1961 is as follows: Antarctica shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes; the treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific base, guarantees the freedom of carrying out scientific investigation and bans military activities on the continent. The treaty prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes, freezes all territorial sovereignty claims and promotes international cooperation in scientific investigation.


After the Antarctic Treaty, the consultative countries signed a series of agreements. The Antarctic Treaty together with those agreements and over 140 recommendations passed by consultative countries are named as the Antarctic Treaty System. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources exploration except for scientific research purposes within 50 years from the day when the protocol entered into force so that the peace in Antarctica in the next 50 years can be secured. It lays a solid foundation for protecting and understanding Antarctica completely. Antarctica doesn’t belong to any country. It belongs to all human beings.


On July 27, 1989, an international expedition team crossed Antarctica including one team member from China, France, USA, Russia, Britain and Japan respectively. They started from the Antarctic peninsula in 1990 and crossed the Antarctic continent along the longest route which passed the South Pole and the Oriental Station and finally reached the Peace Station only by dogsleds and skiing boards within 219 days, covering a total mileage of 5986 kilometers. They made the Antarctic Declaration when they passed the South Pole on December 11, 1989. The international expedition team to Antarctica reached the destination on March 3, 1990. The name of its Chinese team member was Qin, Dahe. We should remember his name as remembering that of astronauts. He executed an amazing feat of human endeavor recorded in the annals of human history forever with other team members from other countries.


5 days has passed after I returned to Beijing. I am busy with a lot of work. It is hard to calm down when I recall the expedition to Antarctica. At the end of the article, I remember that I spent the local Day Festival in St. Petersburg in late June this year. I spent polar day in Antarctica in December. I witnessed the polar day in two places on the earth in the same year, which made 2013 well worth remembering.


December 10, 2013