Reports | 01 March 2010

China prepares for an ice-free Arctic

In this SIPRI published report, Lowy Insitute East Asia Director Linda Jakobson examines how the prospect of the Arctic being navigable during summer months (as a result of climate change) has impelled the Chinese Government to allocate more resources to research in the High North. Several Chinese academics have encouraged their government to be aware of the political, economic and military implications of shorter shipping routes and untapped energy resources. However, Chinese officials advocate cautious Arctic policies for fear of causing alarm and provoking countermeasures among the Arctic states.
 

  • Linda Jakobson

In this SIPRI published report, Lowy Insitute East Asia Director Linda Jakobson examines how the prospect of the Arctic being navigable during summer months (as a result of climate change) has impelled the Chinese Government to allocate more resources to research in the High North. Several Chinese academics have encouraged their government to be aware of the political, economic and military implications of shorter shipping routes and untapped energy resources. However, Chinese officials advocate cautious Arctic policies for fear of causing alarm and provoking countermeasures among the Arctic states.
 

  • Linda Jakobson
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Key Findings

  • From China’s viewpoint, an ice-free Arctic will increase the value of strong ties and broader cooperation with the Nordic countries that otherwise struggle to be noticed by the rising great power that is preoccupied by global challenges
  • By actively persisting to further engage Chinese officials and academics on Arctic issues—ranging from climate change and polar research to commercial shipping routes and maritime rescue operations—Nordic countries can already start laying the foundation for a special Arctic- orientated relationship with China.
  • China’s insistence that respect for state sovereignty be a guiding principle of international relations makes it difficult for China to question the Arctic states’ sovereignty rights.

Executive Summary

China’s insistence on respect for sovereignty as a guiding principle of international relations deters it from questioning the territorial rights of Arctic states. Furthermore, China is aware that its size and rise to major power status evoke jitters, but at the same time it is striving to position itself so that it will not be excluded from access to the Arctic.

Smaller Arctic Council members have an opportunity to lay the foundation for a unique relationship with China by engaging Chinese officials and academics on Arctic issues—ranging from climate change and maritime rescue operations to commercial shipping routes and resource exploration.