1 Mar 2010: China prepares for an ice-free Arctic
The report, entitled ‘China prepares for an ice-free Arctic’, is based on groundbreaking findings by a Western researcher on China’s evolving approach to the Arctic. The author, SIPRI’s Beijing-based Linda Jakobson, has used her unique access to Chinese officials, scholars and primary sources to assess China’s Arctic interests in: (a) shortened trade routes to European and North American markets, and (b) possible access to untapped natural resources to fuel China’s economy.
‘China is slowly but steadily recognizing the commercial and strategic opportunities that will arise from an ice-free Arctic’, explains Jakobson. ‘A few Chinese researchers already question China’s natural sciences-approach to Arctic research and encourage the Chinese Government to make comprehensive plans. These researchers are critical of China’s neutral position toward Arctic politics. But the government does not want to alarm the Arctic states and therefore is cautious in its Arctic policies.’
In China’s eyes the Northern Sea Route raises the value of Nordic countries
As China’s economy relies on foreign trade—with nearly half of its GDP dependent on shipping—there could be much to gain if the shipping route from Shanghai to Hamburg is shortened by 6400 km during the summer each year. With insurance costs on the traditional route via the Suez Canal having risen more than tenfold due to piracy, the Nordic countries could become China’s new gateway to Europe. From China’s viewpoint, an ice-free Arctic will increase the value of close ties with the Nordic countries.
China seeks a more active role in the Arctic Council
The Chinese Government has allocated extra resources to Arctic research and decided to build a new high-tech polar expedition ice-breaker. It also seeks a more active role in the Arctic Council. China emphasizes that it would like to see any disputes over sovereignty of continental shelves resolved peacefully and through dialogue. At the same time Beijing encourages Arctic states to consider the common interests of mankind in the Arctic. Beijing can be expected to stress this position in the future. Jakobson recommends that Arctic Council nations actively engage Chinese officials and academics on all aspects of the Arctic, from climate change and maritime rescue operations to commercial shipping routes and resource exploration.
Linda Jakobson is the Acting Programme Director and Beijing-based Senior Researcher of the China and Global Security Programme of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Jakobson has lived and worked in China for over 15 years and published six books on Chinese politics, foreign policy, and East Asian society. Jakobson’s research at SIPRI focuses on China’s foreign and security policy as well as regional security issues in North East Asia.
The Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs funded the research for this report.