Acknowledging the diversity of Arctic actors and their visions, the Arctic Resilience Assessment (ARA) will devote one chapter to exploring multiple views of the changing Arctic, focusing on its challenges and desires for future development. In the dynamic and varied space that is the Arctic, there are many different interests that interact in the same physical space. The ARA will discuss how distinct actors perceive challenges and opportunities, and whether these different views can be reconciled or are likely to be mutually exclusive.
China’s views of the region add to this diversity of goals, and have been of particular interest to media and academia. China defines itself as a near-Arctic state and has paid increasing attention to the Arctic. Starting in 1999, Chinese scientists have been conducting natural science research above the Arctic Circle. The first Chinese Arctic research station, called Yellow River Station, was founded in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago in July 2004. China has also set up a number of research institutes and university programs to strengthen its academic capacity regarding the Arctic. According to Jakobson and Peng (2012), research in this area provides Chinese policymakers with knowledge to understand specialized polar issues and sources of policy recommendations.
As climate change causes the Arctic sea ice to recede, the untapped natural resources potential and growing possibility of using shipping routes across the Arctic, are making the region more economically attractive and therefore more geopolitically important. As Kai Sun (2013) points out, an economy heavily focused on manufacturing and exporting goods means that China would benefit especially much from participation in Arctic issues.
Recently, China has strengthened its diplomatic ties to Nordic countries such as Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, reflecting the Chinese government’s increased attention to Arctic issues. In May 2013, China was granted permanent observer status to the Arctic Council, formalizing its intent to participate in discussions about Arctic issues. In October 2015, at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming emphasized that China is a major stakeholder in the Arctic, and is willing and able to make great contributions to the sustainable development of the Arctic. China expressed its willingness to step up from the role of a passive observer and to truly involve itself in Arctic issues, while reiterating its commitment to respectful, cooperative and win-win relationships with other actors in the region.
As an example among many, China’s attention to the Arctic illustrates that important governance dynamics are developing in concert with socio-ecological change. As explored by the ARA, the governance landscape surrounding the Arctic is changing, and decisions from outside the region are likely to play an increasingly important role. As China increases its involvement in the Arctic, the governance landscape will surely become more complex. However, this also creates important additional opportunities for collaboration and communication, and opens up a different set of possible solutions going forward. There are a number of cases showing how the uniqueness of the Arctic socio-ecological environment and its challenges have been driving seemingly differing interests towards collaboration, creating new opportunities for local communities (English/Chinese).
- Jakobson, Linda and Peng, Jingchao (2012). China’s Arctic Aspirations. SIPRI Policy Paper no. 34, Stockholm, http://books.sipri.org/files/insight/SIPRIInsight1002.pdf
- Sun, Kai (2013). China and the Arctic: China’s Interests sand Participation in the Region. East Asia-Arctic Relations: Boundary, Security and International Politics. Paper No. 2. CIGI.
- Xiaonan, Huang (2015, October 16). “China’s participation in Arctic affairs on basis of respect, cooperation: FM.” Xinhua. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-10/17/c_134721678.htm
Written by Sylvia Zhang
Photo Credit: Smitty42