October 14, 2023

China And The Arctic


An excerpt from, "Frozen Frontiers: China’s Great Power Ambitions in the Polar Regions" By Matthew P. Funaiole, Brian Hart, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Aidan Powers-Riggs, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), April 18, 2023: 

China’s pursuit of great power status is drawing it to the frozen reaches of the world’s polar regions. In both the Arctic and Antarctic, China has undertaken ambitious expeditions and developed world-class research facilities. These investments have elevated China’s voice in polar affairs and afforded it an opportunity to shape the emerging geopolitical landscape.

Its growing physical footprint in the world’s most remote frontiers also serves to advance China’s broader strategic and military interests. 
An excerpt from, "China’s strategic interest in the Arctic goes beyond economics" By Swee Lean, Collin Koh, Defense News, May 12, 2020:

In its Arctic policy published in 2018, China proclaimed itself as a “near-Arctic state,” a label that has since invited controversy.

Beijing has long regarded the Arctic as consequential to its strategic, economic and environmental interests. China also believes that, in line with international legal treaties — especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Spitsbergen Treaty — it enjoys such rights as scientific research, freedom of navigation, and overflight, fishery, cable-laying and resource development in the Arctic high seas.

Even before the Arctic policy was unveiled, Beijing gradually expanded its footprint in the region. Notably, since 1999, the Chinese have conducted numerous Arctic expeditions and built their first research base, the Yellow River Station on Svalbard Island in 2004. Generally, China’s current policy involves the acquisition of knowledge about the region; protecting, exploiting and participating in the management of the Arctic Ocean; safeguarding the international community’s common interests; and promoting its sustainable development in the region.

China’s better-known Arctic activities are primarily economic, especially energy cooperation with Russia. As part of Beijing’s effort to wean off coal dependence for power generation and to bolster energy security, in December 2019, it inaugurated the 3,000-kilometer-long “Power of Siberia” natural gas pipeline linking Russia’s Siberian fields to northeast China. Chinese companies also play key roles in the Arctic LNG 2, the second major natural gas project currently under development in the Russian Arctic.

Energy aside, China’s collaboration with Russia on establishing a global transport corridor via the Northern Sea Route, or NSR, has in recent times seized no small amount of attention. Experts believe this route would be around 40 percent faster than the same journey via the Suez Canal, significantly slashing fuel costs. With global warming and the consequent opening up of more ice-free periods per year, the prospect of opening up international Arctic shipping via the NSR becomes brighter.

An excerpt from, "What Does China's Arctic Presence Mean to the United States?" By Doug Irving, Rand, December 29, 2022:
A Coast Guard cutter spotted the ships during a routine patrol of the Bering Sea, north of Alaska: a guided missile cruiser and two smaller ships from China, traveling in formation with four ships from Russia. The cutter followed until they split up and dispersed.

The ships broke no rules and violated no boundaries. But their appearance so close to the Arctic this past fall raised concern in Washington nonetheless. For years, China has worked to establish footholds in the region that would give it access to rich mineral deposits and shipping lanes, as well as a greater say in Arctic affairs. That—and a strategic presence in a region ringed by the United States and several other NATO countries.

Researchers at RAND and the Swedish Defence Research Agency looked at where China is operating in the Arctic, what it wants, and what that could mean for regional security. They concluded that China has made only limited inroads in the Arctic, but that's not for lack of trying.

“The threat should not be inflated,” said Stephanie Pezard, a senior political scientist at RAND who specializes in Arctic security. “But at the same time, they have a clear intent to not be excluded from Arctic developments as the region becomes more accessible. The real questions are, How much of a role do they want, and what does that mean for an Arctic nation like the United States?”

Video Title: China's Arctic Ambitions. Source: Foreign Policy Association. Date Published: November 28, 2022. Description:

Under Xi Jinping, China's increasingly aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, Belt and Road Initiative, and controversial relationship with Russia have drawn increasing global scrutiny. While much attention has focused on China's plans in the global south, what are China's goals in the north? Does China have ambitions of trying to position itself as a power in the Arctic? Is this an example of how climate change will impact geopolitics? 

Dr. Stephanie Pezard, Senior Political Scientist and Associate Research Department Director for Defense and Political Sciences at the RAND Corporation, says, "Climate change is going to impact the Arctic and going to impact the conditions of navigation. So one thing that is really interesting is how it could shorten the trip from Asia to Europe. If instead of taking the south route, which is the one that shipping cargo stay currently, you could go north [...] China in particular has integrated the Arctic in its Belt and Road initiative, calling it a polar Silk Road. [...] China does perceive itself as an Arctic country. It's been labeling itself a near Arctic states, which some other countries have derided, especially that the countries that do have territory north of the Arctic Circle [...] But it really reflects China's intention to be a key player in that region." 

This interview was recorded in 2020.