BEIJING, Nov 6 (Reuters) China is to expand two scientific research stations on Antarctica and plans to build a third on the territory, large trunks of which are being claimed by several countries eager to tap its mineral resources.
A total of 189 construction workers would leave for the South Pole from Shanghai on Tuesday as part of the country's 24th scientific expedition to Antarctica, Xinhua news agency said.
The workers would add facilities including a space observation station, radar, oil tanker, garage and warehouse to China's two permanent Antarctic stations -- Changcheng (Great Wall) and Zhongshan, Xinhua said.
''It is the first time for China to conduct large-scale construction there with modern building materials,'' the official news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying.
''The expansion will greatly enhance China's overall exploration of the Antarctic area.'' The projects were expected to be finished in two to three years.
Chinese explorers on the expedition would also survey Dome A, the highest point on the continent at 4,093 metres above sea level, to choose a site for China's third scientific research station, Xinhua said.
Several nations claiming a part of Antarctica have been outlining their case before the United Nations in what some experts are describing as the last big carve-up of territory in history.
Some areas of the continent are disputed by Chile, Argentina and Britain. The claims come amid growing interest in the potential for mineral exploitation at both the North and South Poles.
For now, though, all such claims are theoretical because Antarctica is protected by a 1959 treaty which prevents mineral exploitation of the continent except for scientific research.
REUTERS ARB ND0952