Aware of the suspicions some countries have about its intentions in the Arctic, China is adopting a deliberately low-key public stance that avoids talk about minerals, oil and gas and focuses on climate change and shipping routes. Nevertheless, China is determined not to be sidelined in decisions that it believes will directly affect its economic interests, according to a report published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
No aggressive claims to Arctic wealth
The report, ‘China’s Arctic Aspirations’, highlights a conscious shift among Chinese officials and commentators to downplay China’s interest in the Arctic’s anticipated mineral wealth. It argues that because of China's firm line on national sovereignty in a range of issues, especially ongoing territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, China will not question the sovereign mineral and territorial rights of the Arctic states.
Thus, while China is undoubtedly keen to get a share of the region’s resources, it is unlikely to try to do this through threats or force. China will presumably try instead to secure access to the resources through diplomacy and joint projects with Arctic states, the report argues.
China demands a say in Arctic decisions to protect its perceived rights
China is determined to have greater influence in Arctic affairs. Positioning itself as a key Arctic stakeholder, China is emphasizing the potentially catastrophic economic impacts of Arctic climate change for China.
'China is making it clear that, as a rising global power, it expects to have a say in Arctic affairs, on the basis that the future of the Arctic is a global, not regional, issue', says Linda Jakobson, the report’s lead author and East Asia Programme Director at the Lowy Institute.
Furthermore, China wants to ensure that decisions relating to newly accessible Arctic shipping routes, which potentially offer substantial economic benefits to China’s export industries, support the interests of Chinese shipping, the report says. In September 2012 the Xuelong, China’s first icebreaker, returned from a voyage that included its first transit through the Northern Sea Route.
‘China’s current approach to the Arctic is based on the premise that the more the Arctic states act to maximize their interests in the region as the ice melts, the more China needs to safeguard its own interests and what it perceives as its rights’, says Jakobson, who is a member of SIPRI’s Arctic research team.