Thursday, July 12, 2018

"China’s Polar Strategy: An Emerging Gray Zone?"

It's not often we are able to steal a march on The Diplomat but in this case I think we hit most of the points they raise.
Granted they do it without all the digressions and in one tight little package rather than spread over weeks and they do it better, backward and in heels but still...

From The Diplomat, July 6:

How China is positioning itself to wield influence in the Arctic and Antarctic.
More than 80 percent of tourists on Russian icebreaker tours to the North Pole are Chinese — an indication that government-encouraged “patriotic tourism” may be reaching the world’s most remote regions. Aside from tourism, Chinese strategic interests in both the Arctic and Antarctica reflect classic grand strategic objectives: power and resources (fish, minerals, and hydrocarbons).

Both polar regions can be understood through the lens of “extraterritorial spaces” that connect Antarctica, the high seas, and space,  in which a rising power like China can extend and leverage growth. They are ideal spaces in which to pursue “gray zone” campaigns to reshape the balance of power, using all levers of state power while remaining under escalatory thresholds. China’s successful exploitation of gray zones elsewhere stands as a clear warning that the United States risks acquiescing in the key frontiers of 2050: the poles.

While Chinese moves to gain influence and counter American dominance in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean have drawn widespread attention, less attention has been paid to Beijing’s polar strategy. According to the Wilson Center’s Anne-Marie Brady, China seeks to become a “polar great power,” exploiting the polar regions along its pathway to reshaping the global balance of power. By 2050, U.S. strategists may confront a radically different situation, with the Arctic ice-free (during summer) and Antarctica potentially the site of great power contestation — and China the  dominant power in both regions. Such an outcome would mark a remarkable reversal of the historical polar status quo, characterized by U.S.-Russia balance of power.

Beijing pursues its polar strategy across multiple domains: political, economic, scientific, and military. In 2013, China was granted observer status at the Arctic Council, the highest-level intergovernmental forum in the region. Earlier this year, China finally issued a Arctic white paper, and in January, President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative was formally expanded to include the Arctic via a “Polar Silk Road.”

At the tactical level, Beijing is expanding its presence and reach into the harsh polar regions — it recently opened bidding for a nuclear-powered icebreaker, which would represent a remarkable step forward in its development of polar capabilities. Although described as advancing Chinese polar research capabilities, this platform is widely perceived as laying the groundwork for Chinese nuclear aircraft carriers. China already operates the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) icebreaker, which completed a highly-publicized Arctic Rim circumnavigation in 2017. Another diesel icebreaker, the Xue Long 2, is under construction in Chinese shipyards.

An important element of Chinese polar strategy is real estate: Chinese business interests have made attention-catching bids for Arctic real estate. Targets of investment interest include a mothballed naval base on Greenland, a large coastal tract in northern Iceland, a rare piece of land on Svalbard, and a chunk of land in northern Norway....
Dr. Rebecca Pincus is an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College. The views offered here are hers alone and do not represent those of the Naval War College, the U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense. 

The "better, backward and in heels" was not in reference to Dr. Pincus' sex, gender and/or preferred personal pronoun but rather to the quote often mis-attributed to Ginger Rogers herself. The actual source was a Frank and Ernest cartoon:

Previously on China in the Arctic:

Jan. 30 
"Don't Fear China's Arctic Takeover"

May 6 
"How To Avoid A Naval Cold War In The High North"

April 8
Natural Gas: "Chinese oilmen make big discovery in Russian Arctic waters"

June 29 
"China opens bids for first nuclear-powered icebreaker"
Back in March we intro'd "U.S. Navy Releases Proposal Request for Coast Guard’s New Heavy Polar Icebreaker" with:
If the U.S. were serious the request-for-proposal would be for six ships and they would have been started five to ten years ago.
China, a non-polar nation already has a small fleet of light and medium icebreakers and is rumored to have plans for a new medium with a 3-3.5 meter-thick-ice capability as a stepping-stone to a couple heavy icebreakers by the mid-to-late 2020's. They are serious about their Polar Silk Road.*
It appears the rumors were true....... On the other hand, if you read Xinhua's translation of January's "Full text: China's Arctic Policy" you'll note they call themselves a ‘Near-Arctic state’.
This is to counter people like me using the 'non-polar' or 'non-Arctic' phrasing.

Additionally China is couching their interest in terms of research:
States from outside the Arctic region do not have territorial sovereignty in the Arctic, but they do have rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines in the high seas and other relevant sea areas in the Arctic Ocean, and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area, pursuant to treaties such as UNCLOS and general international law. In addition, Contracting Parties to the Spitsbergen Treaty enjoy the liberty of access and entry to certain areas of the Arctic, the right under conditions of equality and, in accordance with law, to the exercise and practice of scientific research, production and commercial activities such as hunting, fishing, and mining in these areas....
and is dedicating 1100 square feet of space on the latest planned icebreaker to laboratories.

For some reason I'm reminded of the time the Chinese bought their first aircraft carrier from Ukraine.

The Ukrainians wouldn't sell if the big boat were going to be used for military purposes.
So the Chinese said ""
"That's it, we're only going to use it as a floating casino, Chinese people like to gamble, come on lucky 8, that's the ticket!"

Here's the Casino:
Image result for aircraft carrier Liaoning

As can be seen, gamblers are able to fly right in for the action, Pai Gow to starboard, baccarat to port.
I can't wait to see what's cookin' in the icebreaker laboratories.

Even "near-equatorial" Singapore wants to get into the act, albeit by way of the Russian icebreakers.
I suppose it's only a matter of time before right-on-the-equator Brazil or Gabon declare themselves "next-to-near arctic states"

It's a small world after all.