Memorandum to strengthen Antarctic ties

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese president Xi Jinping have committed to strengthen ties between the countries for continued work in Antarctica.

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A memorandum of understanding was signed in the presence of the two leaders in Hobart on Tuesday.

The agreement will include a commitment to use Australia, and specifically Tasmania, as a gateway to the frozen continent.

The city’s port is already used by ships from many countries to restock before heading south for the research season.

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long is anchored in Hobart to coincide with the president’s visit.

The Antarctic history between the two countries stretches back several decades, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.

“Australia helped facilitate China’s first visit to east Antarctica 30 years ago and has provided support to the Chinese Antarctic program through intercontinental air capability, logistics and medical services,” the minister said.

Mr Hunt signed the memorandum with China’s oceanic administrator Liu Cigui.

Mr Xi and Mr Abbott spoke via live stream to scientists at Australia’s Davis Station and China’s Zhongshan Station in Antarctica.

Both leaders thanked researchers for their efforts which Mr Xi said can be “an arduous but glorious” task.

“Antarctica’s unique geographical, climatic and ecological conditions have offered an opportunity to gain an understanding of the evolution of Earth,” Mr Xi said via a translator.

When a Russian ship became stranded in Antarctic waters last December, it was an international effort that went to the rescue, Mr Abbott said.

“That was a very good and practical illustration of what China and Australia can do to help the world in Antarctica,” he said.

The leaders inspected ice core samples before boarding the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long which is moored in Hobart to coincide with Mr Xi’s visit.