China and the Arctic Long Game

China and the Arctic: Objectives and Obstacles,” Caitlin Campbell, U.S. China Economic and Security Council Review Commission, Washington, April 13, 2012

China’s Arctic Aspirations, Linda Jakobson and Jingchao Peng, SIPRI Policy Paper 34, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, November 2012

China’s New Arctic Stratagem: A Strategic Buyer’s Approach to the Arctic,” Timothy Curtis Wright, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2013

The Dragon Eyes the Top of the World: Arctic Policy Debate and Discussion in China, David Curtis Wright, China Maritime Studies Institute, United States Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, August 2011

Polar Bearings: China Pursues its Interests in the North” The Economist, July 12, 2014

Race to the North: China’s Arctic Strategy and its Implications,” Shiloh Rainwater, Naval War College Review, Providence, RI, Spring 2013, Vol. 66, No. 2

Will China Purchase a Piece of the Arctic?” Mark Strauss, io9.com, April 29, 2014

 

China holds no territory or coastal waters that encroach upon the Arctic, and the closest the nation gets to being an arctic nation is a point of land in Heilongjiang province some 53 degrees north of the Equator and some 1,500 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

Those inconvenient facts have not prevented China from beginning a measured, multi-faceted campaign to establish claims on the region and its resources. There has as yet been no definitive statement on the nation’s policy in the region, but Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) noted in March of 2010 “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it. . . . China must plan an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.”

The Chinese government has not distanced itself from Admiral Yin’s position, and China’s efforts since – launching two large icebreakers, establishing an Arctic research station in Norway, and politicking hard to get itself admitted (albeit as an observer) to the Arctic Council suggest that his quote may well serve as de-facto policy. That Admiral Yin’s statement is in direct contravention of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, to which China is a signatory) should not be ignored.

China is playing a long-term game in the Arctic, but its end game should be clear. The only question should be whether the world is prepared to grant China its wish: a major change in the rules governing and protecting one of the world’s last great frontiers.

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