Published: 19:06, April 12, 2024
Polar icebreaker ignites national pride
By Kenneth Li

The just-concluded five-day visit of Xue Long 2, the nation’s first domestically built polar scientific research icebreaker, to the Hong Kong Special Administration Region has been the  talk of the town.


The remarkable polar scientific research development that the country has achieved over the past 40 years has aroused public awareness of the impact of climate change on the world’s polar regions.

The state-of the-art marine and research facilities of Xue Long 2 have also built up a great sense of national pride in the hearts of Hong Kong people, especially the younger generation.

This was the first time the icebreaker visited Hong Kong with a delegation of polar scientists and members of the nation’s 40th Antarctic scientific expedition on aboard. The vessel was cordially welcome by the people of Hong Kong. On its first day in Hong Kong last Monday, the fanfare included an escort by government ships, salutes from vessels, helicopters and double-decker buses and a welcoming ceremony attended by senior officials and esteemed guests. And an evening variety show celebrated the country’s 40-year achievements in polar scientific expeditions with an orchestra performance and dancing and recitals by students from different schools.

Thousands of excited onlookers in various spots around Victoria Harbour seized every opportunity to capture different views of the vessel with their eyes, binoculars, phones and professional cameras as the vessel cruised into Hong Kong.

Docked at the Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, Xue Long 2 was open to the public free of charge throughout its stay in Hong Kong. The response for online registration was so overwhelming that all the visiting sessions were fully booked just two days into the event.

To make full use of Xue Long 2’s visit to Hong Kong to enhance international and local awareness of climate change, which is one of the major research areas of the country’s polar expeditions, the Chinese University of Hong Kong organized a two-day event titled “Global Conference on Climate Change: Polar Studies, Environment and Climate Change”. The first day brought together more than 2,000 scientists, policymakers, industry leaders and guests from around the world to participate in a conference. They joined in-depth discussions on climate change in polar regions and other related topics aiming to inspire global solutions to the issue.

On the second day, scientists from the icebreaker joined a sharing session with more than 250 students from over 20 local secondary schools at the Hong Kong Science Museum. They shared their fascinating insights and experience of the extreme weather conditions in the polar regions. A 25-minute video call was also organized for students to chat with three Chinese mainland polar scientists at the Zhongshan Station — the nation’s second Antarctica research base — which is about 12,000 kilometers south of Hong Kong. The live video chat was also broadcast on YouTube so that more students could attend the event. The mesmerizing photos of Antarctica and the scientists’ perseverance in conducting research in the extreme harsh polar environment deeply impressed the students.

Xue Long 2 has left Hong Kong. However, members of the public can continue to learn more about its research mission at an exhibition at the Hong Kong Science Museum, which is open to the public, free of charge, until June 26. Highlight exhibits include a 1-to-100 scale model of Xue Long 2 and specimens collected directly from the polar regions.

Xue Long 2’s visit to the HKSAR has carried some significant messages to the city’s residents: Why was Hong Kong the first stop on the vessel’s return voyage? How can the younger generation learn from the strong determination and doughty attitude of Chinese mainland scientists to enhance the city’s status as an international information and technology hub? How can the SAR fully leverage the “one country, two systems” advantages so that it can integrate well into the national strategic blueprint and reach new heights of development?  

Despite poor economic conditions some 40 years ago, the country started polar scientific research from scratch and progressed remarkably fruitfully. Over the years, China has explored polar regions including the Antarctic, the Arctic and the Third Pole — the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau. So far, China has built and managed six polar research stations, five in Antarctica and one in the Arctic.

The country’s polar expedition teams have also extended international collaboration and rescue missions throughout the years. For instance, Xue Long 2 transported 23 South Korean scientists from the Jang Bogo Station, a permanent South Korean research station in Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica, to Lyttelton Harbour, New Zealand, in December. In another incident, the icebreaker spent 33 hours saving four crew members from a small fishing boat in distress near Papua New Guinea in November.

Commissioned in 2019, the 122.5-meter Xue Long 2 features the world’s first dual-directional icebreaking capability at the bow and stern, and can rotate freely 360 degrees in place. It is equipped with world-class marine and research facilities. The vessel’s state-of-the art technologies have exemplified the dedicated efforts and unyielding spirit of Chinese scientists and engineers to overcome numerous technological difficulties, helping the nation to become one of leading countries in the field of polar expeditions. This is a good piece of national education for the younger generation of Hong Kong.

People may wonder how, as a tiny city far away from polar regions, Hong Kong can contribute to the nation’s polar scientific research. Remember the SAR’s contribution to the nation’s aerospace science and technology development? Hong Kong’s role in this particular aspect has been pivotal. For example, the Surface Sampling and Packing System, a state-of-the-art innovation that uses robotics for lunar sample acquisition, was designed and manufactured by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Hong Kong has also participated in the national selection of payload experts.

The central government has commended the scientific research capabilities of local universities and the potential of local scientists. That was why Xue Long 1 made its first trip to Hong Kong before starting its Antarctic expedition some 20 years ago. Two decades later, Xue Long 2 made its first stop in Hong Kong on its return voyage from Antarctica.

Hong Kong has yet to produce a payload expert, but we already have Dr Rebecca Lee Lok-sze — the first person from Hong Kong to visit the Arctic, the Antarctic and the summit of Mount Everest. Over the years, she has made significant contributions toward polar exploration and educating people about environmental impacts.

The younger generation should think about how we can contribute more to the nation’s development of polar expeditions, and play the “superconnector” role better under “one country, two systems” so as to promote the country’s polar scientific research contribution to mankind.

The author, a Hong Kong-based freelance writer, is an adviser to the Hong Kong Association of Media Veterans.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.