Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic January 29, 2018 - 11:30 am

China unveils its Arctic ambitions, declaring it’s a “near Arctic state”

Policy promotes "Polar Silk Road" for circumpolar shipping

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of China's research icebreaker Xue Long or Snow Dragon, which went through the Northwest Passage last September. (PHOTO/WIKIPEDIA COMMONS)
Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of China's research icebreaker Xue Long or Snow Dragon, which went through the Northwest Passage last September. (PHOTO/WIKIPEDIA COMMONS)

China is ready to take its place at the top of the world, according to the country’s new Arctic policy paper.

“China is an active participant, builder and contributor in Arctic affairs who has spared no efforts to contribute its wisdom to the development of the Arctic region,” states the policy white paper, released last Friday, Jan. 26.

In the policy, China says it’s a “Near-Arctic State,” one of the continental states that are closest to the Arctic.

As well, “the natural conditions of the Arctic and their changes have a direct impact on China’s climate system and ecological environment, and, in turn, on its economic interests in agriculture, forestry, fishery, marine industry and other sectors,” the policy paper said.

“The fact that the Chinese took the time to develop and present a public policy statement on the Arctic is important onto itself. This is an authoritarian government that does not need nor does provide public policy documents. This demonstrates the importance that the Chinese place on the Arctic,” Rob Huebert from the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies told Nunatsiaq News.

The policy paper, issued by the State Council Information Office, lists all the ways China has already become involved in the Arctic, such as by hosting an Arctic Science Summit Week and sitting as an observer at the Arctic Council.

China also lists the various areas where it wants to do more work: “practical cooperation in all fields, especially regarding climate change, scientific expeditions, environmental protection, ecosystems, shipping routes, resource development, submarine fiber-optic cables, cultural exchanges, and capacity building.”

The policy paper manages at times to sound both altruistic and self-serving.

China says it wants “to build a community with a shared future for mankind and contribute to peace, stability and sustainable development in the Arctic.”

But, at the same time, it also wants to seize the “historic opportunity in the development of the Arctic,” by taking a big role in developing tourism, “exploration for and exploitation of oil, gas, mineral and other non-living resources” and fishing.

You can already see that desire for a role in resource development in the recent announcement of Chinese company’s investment in Sabina Gold and Silver Corp’s Back River gold mine in western Nunavut and China’s many overtures to Nunavut’s resource-rich neighbour, Greenland, whose leaders visited China last October, and where China has increasing mining interests and even proposed using unused naval base as an operations facility.

Shipping route development in the Arctic remains a principal focus of China’s new policy, released only months after the Chinese research icebreaker the Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, transited the Northwest Passage last September—a trip that was eyed with interest by the Canadian Forces, which sent a patrol ship to keep track of the icebreaker.

The Arctic policy paper continues to make a big pitch for China’s right to ship around the Arctic.

It pedals a soft image—that of the “Polar Silk Road”—to describe its vision for a shipping trade route around the circumpolar region, through a reference to the “silk road,” which was an ancient network of trade routes joining China to Europe and other markets.

For its ”Polar Silk Road,” China says it will encourage “its enterprises to participate in the infrastructure construction for these routes and conduct commercial trial voyages in accordance with the law to pave the way for their commercial and regularized operation.”

The goal: “commercial and regularized operation” for Chinese vessels, and a new link in its “Belt and Road” scheme to connect China to the rest of the world through trade corridors and infrastructure projects,

In its Arctic policy, China takes pains to assert its right to freely use Arctic waters, such the Northwest Passage and the central Arctic Ocean, for its China-centered trading network, asking all to “respect the rights and freedom of non-Arctic states to carry out activities in this region in accordance with the law, and respect the overall interests of the international community in the Arctic.”

But, in terms of substance, it is clear that the Chinese want to calm fears about their growing interest and activities in the region, Huebert said.

“The document takes great effort to demonstrate that China will play by the rules, but that it intends to be a full participant in the creation of those rules,” Huebert said.

Huebert also noted that the document is important in what it does not say.

“It does not tell us if they believe the Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage are internal waters, the Canadian and Russian positions, or if they are straits used for international navigation, the American position. The document, not surprisingly, does not say anything about growing Chinese interest in the increasingly important security elements of the region.”

China’s vice-foreign minister, Kong Xuanyou, was quoted as saying during a media briefing in Beijing on the policy paper that “some people may have misgivings over our participation in the development of the Arctic, worried we may have other intentions, or that we may plunder resources or damage the environment.

“I believe these kinds of concerns are absolutely unnecessary,” he said.

But Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson said in a commentary last November that Canada must assert sovereignty over the Arctic while there’s still time.

“Most countries choose to ignore Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage. The United States claims the passage is an international strait that the vessels of any country have the right to traverse. Other countries argue that the area should be deemed Canadian territorial waters, allowing foreign states the unimpeded right to “innocent passage,’” he said. “Canada is at serious risk of losing control and sovereignty over its Arctic.”

For those with a deeper interest in knowing more about China and the Arctic, there’s a new book, “China’s Arctic Ambitions and What They Mean for Canada,” just out from the University of Calgary.

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(14) Comments:

#1. Posted by I live in the Arctic on January 29, 2018

No absolutely not! Stay the heck outta here!

#2. Posted by China. China. China. on January 29, 2018

When Russia sold Alaska to the USA, it was very good. 

Why not sell Nunavut to China.  They would do many more things.  They would be making seal a thousand ways.  Even caribou lice would become very valuable.  They would send thousands of workers.  They would be thousands of tourists to see the northern lights.  They would just go crazy over the pure iceberg water and pure sea weeds.

#3. Posted by NO surprise on January 29, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s plan to bring more money to Canada by giving China a thumbs up, has broken the ice for China to surface in Nunavut.  NO surprise.

Inuit will decide.

#4. Posted by Reality will bite on January 29, 2018

#2 I think that’s a great idea, to give you an idea how it would turn out take a look at how China treats Tibet. I think that would be the much needed dose of reality you clearly need.

#5. Posted by Pete on January 29, 2018

Sometimes we forget that the arctic is a big part of the globe. Canada has just one piece. What “arctic” are the Chinese referring to? The North-EAST passage is more viable as a shipping route than the North-WEST passage.

Geography lesson: Northern China is much closer to the Arctic Circle than southern Canada.

#6. Posted by Ross on January 29, 2018

“Inuit will decide” (?)

No… I don’t think so!

#7. Posted by Uuuuuuggggghh on January 29, 2018

@2: might want to lookup China’s recent trackrecord with their own minority populations as well as their colonial efforts taking place right now in Africa. They wouldn’t be too keen on all this land claims business.

#8. Posted by Arctic checker on January 29, 2018

I was born in the high arctic as a by product of an experiment that failed miserably…china…hummm…i wonder if the chinese need some welcoming pawns to their already growing influence in the arctic today…canada doesn’t seem to care about the sovereign intentions of ...

#9. Posted by pissed off on January 29, 2018

The Inuit people should make themselves aware of what China is doing in Africa and similar places that are in need.
They build roads , schools , ports and public facilities. Never ask to get paid back. However that way they get their foot in the door and go after the natural ressources that they badly need in their own country.

This has been taking place for the past 20 years without much concern from the international community.
This is very dangerous for the Northern people and don`t think that a few `` demonstrations`` will do much to stop it. We need strong leadership as it is a very serious issue. Not time for `` lightweights```

Thank you

#10. Posted by Profundis Stupidus on January 29, 2018

#3 Your comment is a brilliant example of the liabilities that come with a very poor education and understanding of the world. You could kiss you NLCA good bye if China took over, though you’d deserve nothing less for wishing it.

#11. Posted by No Moniker on January 30, 2018

Dear #5 you say that

“Northern China is much closer to the Arctic Circle than southern Canada.”

The most northerly point in China is at 53 degrees. That is about the same as Edmonton, AB & Prince George, BC. The actual centre of Canada is at Yathkyed Lake; 62 degrees, 24 minutes north; 96 degrees, 28 minutes west.

The biggest difference I see is that the Canadian landmass is contiguous from 41 degrees south to 83 degrees north.

All this said, what exactly are you trying to get at?

#12. Posted by get to the point on January 30, 2018

#10 ??????

#13. Posted by Profundis Stupidus on January 30, 2018

#12 What are you trying to figure out?

Help me, help you… okay?

#14. Posted by Lance on February 03, 2018

This story is about China shipping their goods to other countries through the Arctic. Not necessarily the Canadian arctic, but if they do choose that route there is nothing to stop them. In fact, trying to stop them would be a contravention of international law. The Northwest Passage is an international waterway until the World Court decides otherwise, which is not likely.

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