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Monday, 11 October 2021 18:52

China in the Arctic: policy, strategy and prospects for cooperation with Russia

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China is a "near-Arctic state", which today is an active player in the international political arena, including an active participant in international Arctic and economic cooperation. China's interests and demands in the Arctic region, which are largely due to the internal development of the republic.

Climate change, the environment, scientific research, the use of sea routes, exploration and development of resources, sustainable economic development, trade, energy security and global governance - these aspects are of vital importance for the existence and development of all mankind and directly affect the interests of non-Arctic States, including China.

Thus, the United States, for which climate issues are not in the first place now, in fact opened up to China, which is one of the leaders in environmental emissions, the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage and a leading role in solving global climate problems. This is evidenced by

China's aggressive investments in renewable energy sources, energy efficiency improvements and economic policies aimed at reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

One of China's motives in the development of the Arctic is the economic prospects of the Arctic sea routes, primarily the Northern Sea Route. China is concerned about its own long-term resource security and economic sustainability, which is necessary to support a growing population. In turn, the Arctic has the potential to solve China's internal problems, including food production and energy security.

For this purpose, Beijing has consistently promoted the idea of a new Silk Road, which over the past few years has turned from a continental corridor project from China to Europe into a Belt and Road concept, a network of routes that, according to Beijing's plan, should cover the entire Eurasian continent. The scale of the project has also significantly increased: the continental road from Asia to Europe, which has received several branches, has been supplemented by three maritime "blue corridors" – the southern one to Australia, the south-western one to India and the northern one to Europe.

To the surprise of many experts, within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, China decided to take advantage of the transit potential of the Arctic, instead of relying on existing routes through the Suez or Panama Canals to increase maritime communication with Europe.
The White Paper on China's Arctic Policy is China's Arctic strategy, published in 2018. Unlike the Russian strategy, the strategy of China's Arctic policy is more declarative.

The White Paper notes: "China is an important stakeholder in Arctic issues." Noting the need to build a common future for all mankind in the Arctic, the Chinese side focuses on its leading role in this area, gained through active scientific and economic activities in the Arctic.

The White Paper on China's Arctic Policy identifies three overarching goals — to understand the Arctic, protect the Arctic and develop the Arctic — and several ways to achieve them.

As part of the work in this area, China identifies the following key components:
1) deepening research and understanding of the Arctic;
2) protection of the environment in the Arctic and the habitat of indigenous peoples, solving the problem of climate change;
3) legal and rational use of Arctic resources, including natural resources and tourism;
4) active participation in Arctic cooperation and management;
5) promoting peace and stability in the Arctic in the transition from politics to practice.

China expresses its respect to other countries, declares its readiness for cooperation, proclaims the mutually beneficial nature of relations, commitment to sustainable development.

In the field of security, they talk about strengthening peace and stability, ensuring the security of maritime trade, and supporting the rights of all states to use the Arctic.

In accordance with the basic position of the PRC, the strategy offers an inclusive Arctic management system. Of course, in such a system, China, given its weight, will be able to claim one of the leading roles. This provision contains the main contradiction between the strategies of Russia and China.

The most relevant strategies for China's participation in the development of the Arctic have become investments and bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Arctic Council. China tends to rely more on bilateral partnerships, seeking to work directly with Arctic partners to achieve goals of common interest.

The leadership of the Russian Federation treats such a prospect with caution. In the Russian official understanding of the Arctic, there is a hierarchy of national interests. From Moscow's point of view, Russia's basic interests in the Arctic coincide most of all with the interests of other Arctic countries — Denmark, Canada, Norway and the USA. All of them have access to the Arctic Ocean, have exclusive economic zones in it, develop natural resources and must take care of the indigenous population of the North. After the five Arctic countries, there are three permanent members of the Arctic Council in this "list": Iceland, Finland and Sweden. First of all, the economy is important here. And only then come the interests of other countries, including the Arctic Council observers, in particular Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France, as well as India, China, South Korea, Japan. In this case, prestige, politics, and navigation are of great importance.

As you can see, the interests of Russia and China in the Arctic are not comparable in scope and nature.

Beijing also bases its position on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but at the same time proceeds from the fact that the Arctic is the property of all mankind. The contrast with the Russian approach is striking. While Russia defends the exclusive rights of the Arctic states, Beijing demonstrates broad inclusiveness.

In 2013, an official dialogue between Moscow and Beijing on the Arctic began. It is obvious that some of the most important provisions of the Chinese and Russian strategies in the Arctic directly contradict each other. Nevertheless, Moscow and Beijing do not emphasize these differences and avoid clashes in practical politics. Moreover, China and Russia are increasingly cooperating with each other in the Arctic on the pragmatic basis of overlapping interests.

In the Arctic, the interaction between China and Russia is exclusively economic in nature (energy, infrastructure projects). There is no reason to believe that in the foreseeable future, the interaction of these two powers in the Arctic will acquire a military direction.
Russia approaches the development of relations with China in general and specifically in the Arctic very carefully, seeking to protect its sovereignty. The Russian strategy is self-strengthening - mainly through the development of its own potential. The position regarding cooperation with other countries assumes a maximum of external partnerships, which should balance each other, and not create excessive dependence on one major partner.

Sources:

1. China's Arctic Policy, Information Bureau of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, January 2018, translated into Russian [Electronic resource] URL: https://www.northernforum.org/ru/news-ru/358 - (date of application: 11.10.2021)

2. Decree of the President of the Russian Federation No. 645 dated October 26, 2020 "On the Strategy for the Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and ensuring national security for the period up to 2035"

3. Sidorov I. China's policy in the Arctic and its impact on the region, Online magazine "Military-political Analytics", 07/2018 [Electronic resource] URL: https://vpoanalytics.com/2018/07/10/politika-kitaya-v-arktike-i-ee-vliyanie-na-region / (date of request: 11.10.2021)

4. Trenin D. Russia and China in the Arctic: Cooperation, Rivalry and consequences for Eurasian Security, Russian Council on International Affairs, 04/2020 [Electronic resource] URL: https://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/comments/rossiya-i-kitay-v-arktike-sotrudnichestvo-sopernichestvo-i-posledstviya-dlya-evraziyskoy-bezopasnost/

5. Bowman, Liz, and Qingchao Xu. 2020. China in the Arctic: Policies, Strategies, and Opportunities for Alaska. Fairbanks: Center for Arctic Policy Studies.

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