China Heads North – To The Arctic
China Moving To Play Larger Role In Arctic Region
In May, China and six other nations received observer status at the Arctic Council, a sign of the growing importance of climate change in the region. Since its inclusion in the Council, China has demonstrated its intention to play a very active role, writes Stephen Blank in The Diplomat.
In pursuit of increasing trade in the Arctic, Yu Zhengasheng, Chairman of China’s Political Consultative Conference, visited Finland, Sweden and Denmark, a move followed up by the announcement of an expanded research and scientific polar institute that will collaborate with Nordic research centers to study climate change.
“With this, Beijing made clear it did not intend to be a passive member of the Council; it planned to have a real say in its future proceedings. China National Offshore Oil Corporation meanwhile announced a deal with Iceland’s Eykon Energy firm to explore off Iceland’s Southeast coast,” he notes.
Furthermore, he contends, China is seeking to use its position to secure energy and other supplies “where the U.S. Navy cannot or will not go.”
The Council historically has been focused on the environment, but rising global temperatures and the effects of climate change have actually made the council more interesting for economic powers like China, India, Japan and South Korea. So, what will China’s status on the Council mean for the environment?
Sara Reardon says there are some concerns about China’s increasing interest in the Arctic, particularly its desire to boost fishing. She notes that rising sea temperatures are forcing fish further north into Arctic waters. This is attractive to China, which consumed two-thirds of the global fish catch in 2009.
However, Reardon writes in The New Scientist, on balance many environmentalists, such as Charles Kronick of Greenpeace, view it as “a good thing that China and others are adding their voices to the Arctic Council’s decision-making process.”
The Arctic Council itself should see its influence grow in coming years as its agenda expands, says Steven Hansen of Stratfor.
“In the coming years, the debate among member states to determine whether the Arctic Council should move beyond environmental issues and become a forum to address issues related to militarization, natural resources and trade routes will become more prominent,” he argues.