By Sanna Kopra
The Arctic Institute
China’s Arctic engagement has increased considerably during the past decade, which has not only offered plentiful economic opportunities but also created new risks and concerns among the eight Arctic states, non-state actors, and peoples. To increase understanding of dimensions of Beijing’s Arctic activities, The Arctic Institute’s new China series probes into China’s evolving Arctic interests, policies, and strategies, and analyses their ramifications for the region (and beyond). Over the coming weeks, we will publish numerous articles and commentaries elaborating on the political, economic, environmental, and social dimensions of China’s Arctic involvement.
China’s Arctic involvement began in the field of science. China signed the Svalbard Treaty in 1925, and since the early 1990s, Chinese scholars have conducted Arctic and Antarctic expeditions aboard research icebreaker Xue Long. Today, China has research stations on Svalbard (Yellow River Station, est. 2004) and Iceland (the China-Iceland Arctic Science Observatory, est. 2018). In Sweden, China has its first overseas land satellite receiving station (the China Remote Sensing Satellite North Polar Ground Station, est. 2016), and with Finland, it has agreed to establish a joint research center for Arctic space observation and data sharing services. China’s first home-built icebreaker, Xue Long II, was finished in 2019, and plans for building a nuclear-powered icebreaker have been unveiled.
In January 2018, China published its first-ever official Arctic White Paper, which defines China’s policy goals in the region as follows: “To understand, protect, develop and participate in the governance of the Arctic, so as to safeguard the common interests of all countries and the international community in the Arctic, and promote sustainable development of the Arctic”. The White Paper underlines that the Chinese government respects the sovereign rights of the eight Arctic states in the region. At the same time, it portrays the Arctic as a globally shared space, a “community with a shared future for mankind”. Notably, the White Paper defines China as a “near-Arctic state” which has legitimate rights in the region – and argues that Arctic states should respect these rights, including the right to conduct scientific research, navigate, perform flyovers, fish, lay submarine cables and pipelines, and even explore and exploit natural resources in the Arctic high seas.
Picture: Timo Palo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)