China’s Arctic Play
Image Credit: US Coastguard

China’s Arctic Play


‘The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it.’ So said Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, in comments relayed by the official China News Service on March 5 that essentially staked Beijing’s claim to the North Pole.

Of course, China, lacking an Arctic coast, has no recognizable right to any portion of the roof of the world. The five Arctic littoral states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—do, however, and their overlapping claims remain unresolved.

This all means that Admiral Yin’s statement has put China in the game, as he has effectively challenged all five nations. And not only has Yin staked a claim in the Arctic—it’s clear he wants China’s stake there to be significant. ‘China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population,’ he argued.

In just a few words, the good admiral has upended commonly accepted notions about Beijing’s intentions in the Arctic. ‘To date China has adopted a wait-and-see approach to Arctic developments, wary that active overtures would cause alarm in other countries due to China’s size and status as a rising global power,’ Linda Jakobson wrote in a report issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on March 1. As a result, Chinese officials had become ‘very cautious’ in publicizing their views.

Well, they were cautious—but apparently not anymore. The turnaround in attitudes is striking, especially because the People’s Republic, since its founding, had based its foreign policies on the bedrock of noninterference in the affairs of other nations, a concept embodied in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. So, when Jakobson wrote ‘China’s insistence on respect for sovereignty as a guiding principle of international relations deters it from questioning the territorial rights of Arctic states,’ she seemed on firm ground.

But within a few days, that ground began to shift. Yin based his expansive claim on the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea. His reading of UNCLOS is deeply flawed, but it could become a popular one. As he said, ‘The current scramble for the sovereignty of the Arctic among some nations has encroached on many other countries’ interests.’

Many other countries? Make that 190 of them, to be exact. It would seem that all but the five Arctic littoral states would have an interest in joining China in demanding a share in the riches of the world’s roof. Yin could become the voice of the non-Arctic nations.

July 10, 2013 at 14:48

any Gold and Silver find should be put in China Gold Internationals Name!

[...] in the resolution of Arctic territorial boundaries that are up for decision. In 2009-10 it had claimed that no state had sovereignty in the Arctic, a clear slap at Russian claims. Now, to join the Council, it had to repudiate that [...]

Karl Erickson
March 25, 2013 at 01:02

Good point

June 29, 2012 at 06:53

Hi James,
                 The article is not about freedom of navigation, it is about claiming a pie, if China wants to claim 1/5th of Arctic based on their population can they include India and claim 2/5th.

July 17, 2011 at 05:50

Agreed. It seems only the white countries of the world have the right to take over other people’s land or even defend themselves.

July 17, 2011 at 05:48

You mean like North Dakota was claimed by white people in the 19th century even though Native Americans had been there for thousands of years?

April 22, 2011 at 20:18

“‘The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it.’ So said Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, in comments relayed by the official China News Service on March 5 that essentially staked Beijing’s claim to the North Pole.”

And how did the US and other parties respond to China’s unilateral interference in their territories held since ancient times? Did they throw a hissy fit and stomp out of negotiations only to return later to lecture that ‘some states are small powers and others are large powers’; did US et al withdraw military cooperation with China due to China’s blatant interference in their internal affairs? Nope, guess some powers are just more mature, funny how shallow 5,000 years of history has left Chinese ‘diplomacy’! South China Sea should be terra nullis, turned into a nature preserve with free passage for all and its resources placed under the guardianship of an international caretaker who will devote profits to ASEAN development… how about that China?

April 22, 2011 at 10:11

If all the world navies can sail the seven seas under the freedom of navigation, so why not China?

Hopefully one day, Chinese aircraft carriers and submarines will practise their seamanship in the Carribean.

Leonard R.
April 20, 2011 at 18:19

I certainly hope so.

China’s claim to the Arctic resembles its claim to the Spratlys in one
important way: China is nowhere near either place.

Stay tuned: Next year China will claim North Dakota.

Atanu Maulik
January 15, 2011 at 16:52

Again a lot of hot air and bluster from the most overrated country in the world. But don’t worry, China will be cut down to size pretty soon.

truculent tone
August 2, 2010 at 04:32

Even though China has sent an expeditionary ship to the North Pole (Xinhua News) and appears to be very interested in the Arctic, China has to understand that the US and Canada will not tollerate any exclusion. Canada and the US make up the largest Union and will most likely adopt a unilateral approach to the Arctic.

Canada and the US are extremely rich and diverse considering resourses and military might. China has yet to experience and to understand the common bond that these two countries share, and if there is to be any exclusion it will be directed at China.

April 22, 2010 at 13:27

Someday, another Chinese think tanker may suggest America’s Midwest should belong to China because there are a lot of Chinese bones buried along the rail road.

April 22, 2010 at 13:17

I understand exactly what you mean. Look at their 60th military parade, the uniforms, formations, gestures, and the plays look like a Nazi parade.

They bully southern neighbors, claim the whole south sea as their lake. Recently, they flexed their navy power beyond Japanese sea…World peace doesn’t look good under this Chinese hegemony. But look at where Nazi Germany and militarist Japan ended. PLA China is heading there.

Concerned Australian
March 18, 2010 at 21:35

China is a claimant and PLAN officer Yin is not merely doing asserting his position but setting the stage for PRC activity in that region. Given the Beijing Regime’s appalling record on the international stage, flagrant violation of norms of decent conduct, incredible carelessness for the rights and lives of its own people and others, and its record of supporting the world’s worst regimes any extension of PRC influence beyond their borders is appalling.

You have to realise that the conduct and behaviour of of the 1% of PRC citizens who are party members and who control more than 70% of the nations wealth is founded on an appalling lack of concern for any ehtical or moral principle except the use of power.

The record of his rulers, and the muscular talk of PLA officer’s of late clearly indicate they are itching for a fight. The Admiral’s position is, if you know the background to the Regime, its “body count” since 1949 and its gross violations, undoubtedly “hostile”?

On the international scene self-interest is admittedly a characteristic of all nations, but it is taken to a hideous extreme by the Beijing regime who have no decent morality and support the worst violators of human rights (Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma etc)

We are beginning to see their true colours (they were always evident if you understood what they were doing in terms of religious & sect persecution, Tibet Xinjiang, The Republic of China (Taiwan) and the jailing and beating of parents who protest about their kids being killed by corruptly built buildings killing schoolchildren, or when corrupt officials transmit HIV/AIDS to the innocent when buying their blood – YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE POLITICAL TO BE BRUTALLY SUPPRESSED – although anyone with a decent set of ethics and morality is recognised as an enemy by a regime that has none and who lies to the world and its people.

Unfortunately, whilst I suspect your sympathies are with the Regime, I doubt that my civilisation is going to wake up to what is really going on. I know PRC will trade oceans of blood to emerge victorious. The threat of a decapitation strike could keep us all safe.

Dev Kumar Dutta
March 16, 2010 at 15:46

Interesting…very interesting. The dragon’s getting bigger and now it wants more of the bedspace. First it was Japan and her fantastic claims over all of Asia and now it’s China which was a victim of Japanese intimidation then. A lot of similarity there except that it could be completely different ballgame now especially when you consider China’s size.

March 10, 2010 at 15:03

Having served in Alaska with the US Army, I wonder if the Admiral fully understands what he is saying. Unless the Chinese are planning to go around the world to access the Arctic, they are going to have to go through the Bering Strait, right between Russia and the US. The seas that the Chinese Navy is used to operating on are quite placid compared to the North Pacific and Bering Sea, to say nothing of the Arctic Ocean. They have no experience in extreme cold weather operations, severe icing conditions for ships, and no experience in dealing with Arctic pack ice. The North Pacific and Bering Sea are some of the foggiest areas on the earth, and radars conditions can also get more than a little odd. Surface ducting is a major problem. Prolonged cold-soaking of metal hulls and welds can lead to major structural failure, as discovered during World War 2 operations in the area. Steel has totally different structural characteristics are 40 below zero. Any prolonged operations are going to require the development of a fleet supply train, and the knowledge of how to operate it. That in not something that is developed overnight. They have a lot to learn before being able to operate under Arctic conditions.

Naval operations in the Bering Sea are definitely going to raise concerns in the US and Russia, to say nothing of operations in the Arctic Ocean. Four of the Arctic Nations, the US, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (courtesy of Greenland) are members of NATO. China moving into the Arctic is definitely going to raise some hackles in Europe as well. In addition, whereas the US, Russia, and Canada are well placed for aerial operations over the North Pacific, Bering Sea, and Arctic Ocean, any Chinese naval force will be seriously lacking in air cover and air support. Any air craft carrier is years away, and carrier operations under Arctic conditions are totally unlike operations elsewhere. I do not even want to think how high the operational loss rate would be in the middle of a North Pacific winter. I suspect that the Chinese Navy is going to discover that the Arctic is a lot farther away from home that it appears on a map.

Michael G. Gallagher
March 10, 2010 at 13:54

This is very sad indeed. I can’t decide whether the PLA sounds more like Japanese militarists in the 1930s or like the Imperial German variety in 1910. Either way, the prospects for peace in Asia aren’t good.

March 9, 2010 at 23:09

What “claim” is this talking about? China isn’t a claimant. Adm Yin is merely asserting his position. Why does this insist on characterizing the Admiral’s position as “hostile”? It seems perfectly reasonable to me, and doubly so if you consider that it may be merely a bargaining position. SOP in international politicking.
It’s clear that the author is no fan of China. I have no issue with that, but it renders the “analysis” predictable and pointless.

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