Understanding China’s Arctic Policies


Within the last seven years 11 countries (Poland (2006), Russia (2008), Finland (2009), France (2009), Sweden (2010), Iceland (2011), Spain (2011), Denmark (2012), Singapore (2012), Canada (2012) and Japan (2013) have realized the need to appoint their own Arctic ambassadors. These ambassadors are used for analysis and situational assessments in the emerging “grand Arctic game,” with the ultimate aim of exploiting mineral resources and using the Arctic route for shipping cargo from Europe to Asia. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey released an assessment revealing that the Arctic accounts for about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas, and 20 percent of its undiscovered natural gas liquids. In other words, 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of natural gas.

The potential commercial benefits of cargo transportation through the Arctic in comparison to the Suez Canal also seem appealing. In August and September 2009 two German heavy-lift vessels, MV Beluga Foresight and MV Beluga Fraternity carried a cargo of steel pipes from Arkhangelsk (Russia) to Nigeria using the Northern Sea Route. The new passage shortened the distance for 3000 nautical miles and reduced fuel consumption by 200 tons per vessel, resulting in savings of 600 000 U.S. dollars. A year later, the Hong Kong vessel MV Nordic Barents transported iron ore from Kirkenes (Norway) to Shanghai using the same route and cut expenses on $180,000. In 2012, 46 vessels carried more than 1.2 million tonnes of cargo through the Northern Sea Route, up 53 percent compared with 2011. In 2010, only four vessels used the route. Some researchers predict that 30 million tones of cargo will be shipped via the Northern Sea Route to 2020

China is the largest consumer and importer of energy resources in the world but its vast geographical distance from the Arctic limits Beijing’s opportunity – at least in contrast to Arctic Council members (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.) – to set the agenda and form a strategy for taking advantage of new Arctic opportunities. Nevertheless, China was the first Asian state to show interest and it has begun efforts to become a full member of the Arctic Council. Beijing argues that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea the Arctic Ocean is a shipping commons, and that climate change has negative consequences for Chinese food security, particularly with the flooding of its coastal regions.

In the meantime, China has stepped up Arctic and Antarctic research. Between 1985 and 2012, Beijing initiated five Arctic and 28 Antarctic expeditions. It has also built the state-owned Arctic Yellow River Station, and entered into an agreement with Finnish company Aker Arctic Technology to construct a second ice breaker by 2014, joining the MV Xuě Lóng that Beijing bought from Ukraine in 1993. Moreover, Chinese representatives take part in the Arctic Science Committee, Arctic Science Summit Week, Ny-Ålesund Science Managers Committee, and the International Polar Year project. However, “scientific” diplomacy alone will not seem to be helping China join the most influential and important Arctic organization ( the Arctic Council) as a permanent member state.

At present, China’s Arctic initiatives suggest that Beijing is eager to camouflage its true interests in the region with environmental monitoring, Arctic life protection and concerns about indigenous peoples. Beijing’s rhetoric aims at defining the Arctic as an international zone where changes must make sense for all countries and climate change is a problem for the highest levels of diplomacy. Alongside France and Germany, China sees an oil spill in the Arctic similar to that which occurred in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico would have disastrous outcomes for global security. So it is spending around $60 million annually on polar research, is building a China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai, and plans to increase the research staff by a factor of five, to 1000.

At the same time, Beijing is dropping hints that China is not satisfied with the current balance of power in the Arctic region. The most striking issue in the polemic that represents Beijing’s ambitions in the Arctic race is the identification of China as a “near-Arctic” state. This concept has already become ingrained in the lexicon of Chinese scientists who are responsible for Arctic research.

February 21, 2014 at 03:15

China is welcome to participate in Arctic organizations providing that they begin to assume their responsibilities for underwriting the expenses of these organizations.

When shipping through the Arctic begin to take off, vessels transiting through national waters will likely be assessed reasonable fees to partly offset the high cost of maintaining Arctic search and rescue capabilities.

February 3, 2014 at 22:13

Now, China cooperates with Russia in order to use northwest passage. Moscow is able to protect this route and China searches for mutual benefits. But it is important for major players to remember about environmental protection in the Arctic. Drilling should be safe for nature and oil spills are extremely dangerous. So China, Russia and others need to develop technologies to ensure environmental safety.

January 6, 2014 at 00:01

Ten years from now, China will put up an ADIZ in the Arctic and will claim both the Arctic and the Antartica as belonging to China under some dubious historical context. Yeah, planet Earth is Chinese, by the way.

January 15, 2014 at 11:03

My God, the Japanese air defense identification zone approaching the land of China

Ancient Chinese maps marked these places is China’s(1787 French rendering of the “big discovery Chart”)

November 27, 2013 at 17:14

It’s all about land grab, and we know through history that China is not a peaceful state. China is a warring civilization, and it embraces killing as its glory.

It’s greed, and China is a greedy nation.

November 25, 2013 at 17:45

Russia will beg for Chinese membership not too long into the future…Why? Well, ask the US :)

I think maybe the diplomat would like to see China gone so that the US can “divide and rule”? Maybe that’s not a bad idea, thinking of the US democratic values…

I am ALL FOR the US liberating the whole world so that we could all unite to vote for a common president…Afterall, what does it mean by the “Leader of the Free World” if he/she is not democratically voted into power by all people of the Free World?

November 25, 2013 at 17:59

The best way for the US to convince the Chinese masses to rise up against the Communist Party for a Democratic state is to LEAD by EXAMPLE:

For a start, allow the Leader of the Largest Democracy in the World (I hope it’s not just paying lip service on the part of the US) to assume the roles and responsibilities of being the “Leader of the Free World”.

Either that OR

Include Indian votes across India in selection of the “Leader of the Free World”.

Since the US is so full of admiration of India being the “Largest Democracy in the World”, this should not be a problem, right?

Talk is of NO USE. We have had enough of the Communist lies and we expect the US to LEAD by EXAMPLE..and the best way is through Democratization of the Free World :)

Patrick Molen
November 15, 2013 at 13:05

 waterway between Russia and Alaska called The Bering Strait is suseptible to closure.

can railroad across the Russian Far East and tundra till you reach the waters of the artic. but thats got to make the Russians a little paranoid, perhaps why Russia just played nice with Japan via a militry to military exchange and maybe why Russia last week agreed to substantially increase military aid to Vietnam?

November 26, 2013 at 01:17

Russia shouldn’t be doing this back-stabbing China but China is very tolerant about it because China knows who is the number one power to balance in the world…

Did Russia see that? And did Russia see far enough? China did not support any Russian foe. Russians can get something from the past – the experience of the former USSR was evident to the importance of China as a close ally.

Only then could Russia survive and only then could both Russia and China advance their common interests together…China maybe a challenge in the long term while the US is the clear and present danger.

November 15, 2013 at 09:46

Artic nations better be careful or china/chinese will claim the whole thing because of "historic evidences" and "undisputable territories" and the usual crazy talk (from breathing too much polluted air and drinking dirty water).

November 25, 2013 at 17:38

Well, China is not as stupid as you may think. Save the historical evidences and undisputed territories to yourself :) China did lose many territories in the past to Russia though, but it’s not going to ask for that because China honors her deeds and words :)

November 27, 2013 at 17:07

No, I think China will start saying Eskimos and Red Indians were Chinese descendants and will repatriate them and their territories.

you know, China tried to confuse the world with historical claims over South China Sea and those little islands. Historical claims without historical evidences are great political tools indeed… Only idiots will believe in those.

February 21, 2014 at 04:12

“because China honors her deeds and words :)”

Now tell us about the “unequal treaties” being honored by China.

They are honored alright, in their breach.

November 15, 2013 at 03:48

Thnx for the article to the author

November 15, 2013 at 00:42

Regarding claims on the Arctic:  "As of October 2013, the United States had not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and, therefore, has not been eligible to file an official claim to an extended continental shelf with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf."

Ouch, ouch, the sword cuts both way it seems.

November 25, 2013 at 17:40

The US on the Law of the Sea overrides the UN law, don’t you know that? :) Just ask the poor Canadians who can only suffer in silence…

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