The Chinese government has warned its citizens to "think carefully before signing up for a trip to Antarctica", said officials from the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the National Tourism Administration (NTA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"China has not approved any kind of tour to the region because its overriding concern is to protect the fragile Antarctic ecosystem and travelers' safety," an NTA official said.
Some Chinese travel agencies and other organizations organize flights to Chile or Argentina, where local agencies step in to take them to the South Pole, usually by ship.
The cost is around 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) and since the region is not an approved destination for Chinese travel groups, tourists' safety and other benefits cannot be secured, according to the official.
China currently has no regulations about Antarctic tourism, the official said.
He said that China was drafting a regulation on tourist activities, including tourism in Antarctica, but it is not known when the regulation will be issued.
He cited "environmental protection" as the main reason to tighten control over commercial tours to the region and said the regulation would be drafted in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, which requires its members to administrate tours to Antarctica and bans any activities that may harm the ecological system of the region.
It will require a pre-assessment of the influence every activity is likely to have on the environment of Antarctica.
A group of tourists, organized by a Guangdong-based travel agency, plan to visit the South Pole in January.
Several countries, including the United States, Russia and Australia, organize tourism to Antarctica. According to statistics, more than 10,000 people visit Antarctica each year.
(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2007)