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China Prepares for an Ice-free Arctic

Publisher: SIPRI
March, 2010

The prospect of the Arctic being navigable during summer months as a result of climate change has impelled the Chinese Government to allocate more resources to research in the High North. Several Chinese academics have encouraged their government to be aware of the political, economic and military implications of shorter shipping routes and untapped energy resources. However, Chinese officials advocate cautious Arctic policies for fear of causing alarm and provoking countermeasures among the Arctic states.

China’s insistence on respect for sovereignty as a guiding principle of international relations deters it from questioning the territorial rights of Arctic states. Furthermore, China is aware that its size and rise to major power status evoke jitters, but at the same time it is striving to position itself so that it will not be excluded from access to the Arctic.

Smaller Arctic Council members have an opportunity to lay the foundation for a unique relationship with China by engaging Chinese officials and academics on Arctic issues—ranging from climate change and maritime rescue operations to commercial shipping routes and resource exploration.


I. Introduction

II. China’s expanding polar research capabilities

III. China’s commercial and strategic interests in the Arctic

IV. China and Arctic politics

V. Conclusions