Sunday, April 28, 2019

"China’s Emerging Strategies in the Arctic"

 From High North News, April 18:

To date, China’s conservative approach to developing an Arctic strategy has been successful, as the country is now widely viewed as a significant Arctic player after only a few short years of intensive regional engagement.
As the largest non-Arctic state with a developing polar policy, and the biggest country with observer status on the Arctic Council, China has sought to tread carefully in engaging the region, in particular by underscoring the country’s potential as a partner in scientific, economic and political developments in the circumpolar north. However, over the past five years, China’s approach to the Arctic has shifted significantly from a focus centred on science diplomacy, including seeking to better understand how extreme northern climate change may affect conditions in China itself, to a more multifaceted approach with a more pronounced enthusiasm for the economic potential in the Arctic, especially in the areas of shipping and resource extraction. 

Russia has been the biggest beneficiary by far of Beijing’s Arctic investment, as illustrated by the degree of Chinese financial support for oil and liquified natural gas (LNG) enterprises in the Russian Arctic, including the Yamal LNG project in Siberia and other states are also anticipating benefits from China’s emergence as an Arctic economic power. The government of Finland has been discussing the possibility of China-backed Arctic railways and an internet cable stretching from Asia to Europe via the Arctic Ocean. Iceland has a free trade agreement with Beijing, and Norway is hoping to have a similar deal in place by the end of this year. China-based mining interests are active in Greenland, with the possibility of Chinese energy firms vying for onshore oil and gas exploration on the island in the coming years. In addition, Chinese shipping interests are paying close attention to the emergence of polar routes as shortcuts between Asia, Europe and North America. Thus, a priority for Beijing in the Arctic is to ensure a stable economic presence as the region opens up to further development.
Short Arctic history
China has been wary of elucidating a security agenda in the Arctic for a variety of reasons. Unlike the United States and Russia, China has no Arctic territory and compared to the other two great powers, as well as several Western European states, Beijing has a much shorter history in the Arctic. Second, with the expansion of China’s strategic interests in other parts of the world, including the Indo-Pacific region, Africa and Central Asia, Beijing has experienced a proportionately greater level of scrutiny compared with other Asian governments with developed Arctic policy agendas, such as Japan and South Korea. Therefore, China is concerned about being perceived, especially by the ‘Arctic Eight’ governments, as being a spoiler or a revisionist power in the region. Third, Beijing has made much greater gains in its Arctic diplomacy by distinguishing itself as a proponent of Arctic development, and therefore wants to avoid any tarnishing of that identity. Finally, the cost / benefit calculations for China to add a ‘hard security’ element to its Arctic policies are not worthwhile, and in fact a push for the militarization of the Arctic from any direction would not serve Chinese interests.  
However, to say that China’s expanding Arctic policies do not envision security components at all would be overstating the case, especially since signs are appearing that the Arctic, while still on the periphery of Chinese foreign policy, is nonetheless assuming a greater priority. The main reason for this has been the recent confirmation that the Arctic Ocean was going to be added to the expanding checkerboard of Chinese trade linkages which comprise the Belt and Road initiative (一带一路 yidai yilu), or BRI. Until two years ago, it was assumed this was not to be the case, at least in the short term given China’s focus on other components, especially the African, Indian Ocean and Western European wings of the initiative. Yet in June 2017, the Arctic was identified in an official government document as a ‘blue economic passage’ (lanse jingji tongdao蓝色经济通道) vital to Beijing’s future economic interests. In January 2018, Beijing released its long-anticipated first official White Paper on its Arctic policy, which further confirmed the inclusion of the region into the BRI as well as articulating growing Chinese interests in joint economic partnerships of various types with Arctic governments....MUCH MORE
If interested here is Xinhua's translation of January 2018s "Full text: China's Arctic Policy" you'll note they call themselves a ‘Near-Arctic state’.

Also at High North News:
What the new US Coast Guard Strategy tells us about the Arctic anno 2019