China's Arctic policy: How China aligns rights and interests

24-04-2018

Unlike the Arctic states, China has no territorial sovereignty and related sovereign rights to resource extraction and fishing in the Arctic. Faced with very limited rights as a non-Arctic state, China has been eager to design strategies to bridge the widening gap between the legal and institutional constraints in the Arctic and its growing Arctic interests. It has developed a self-defined Arctic identity as a 'near-Arctic state' and sought – and in 2013 gained – observer status in the Arctic Council, to prepare the ground for a future expanded foothold in the region. China's first-ever white paper on Arctic policy of 26 January 2018 seeks to justify the country's Arctic ambitions through its history of Arctic research and the challenges and opportunities that rapid climate change in the Arctic present the country. China acknowledges for the first time that its Arctic interests are no longer limited to scientific research but extend to a variety of commercial activities. These are embedded in a new China-led cooperation initiative which aims to build a 'Polar Silk Road' that connects China with Europe via the Arctic and corresponds to one of two new 'blue ocean passages' extending from China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, launched in 2013. The white paper stresses China's commitment to upholding the institutional and legal framework for Arctic governance and to respecting the sovereign rights of the Arctic states. On the other hand, it asserts China's right as a non-Arctic state to participate in Arctic affairs under international law. China's Arctic policy suggests a strong desire to push for the internationalisation of the Arctic's regional governance system. The white paper is not a strategy document, and is more interesting for what it omits, such as the national security dimension that is a major driver of China's Arctic ambitions.

Unlike the Arctic states, China has no territorial sovereignty and related sovereign rights to resource extraction and fishing in the Arctic. Faced with very limited rights as a non-Arctic state, China has been eager to design strategies to bridge the widening gap between the legal and institutional constraints in the Arctic and its growing Arctic interests. It has developed a self-defined Arctic identity as a 'near-Arctic state' and sought – and in 2013 gained – observer status in the Arctic Council, to prepare the ground for a future expanded foothold in the region. China's first-ever white paper on Arctic policy of 26 January 2018 seeks to justify the country's Arctic ambitions through its history of Arctic research and the challenges and opportunities that rapid climate change in the Arctic present the country. China acknowledges for the first time that its Arctic interests are no longer limited to scientific research but extend to a variety of commercial activities. These are embedded in a new China-led cooperation initiative which aims to build a 'Polar Silk Road' that connects China with Europe via the Arctic and corresponds to one of two new 'blue ocean passages' extending from China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, launched in 2013. The white paper stresses China's commitment to upholding the institutional and legal framework for Arctic governance and to respecting the sovereign rights of the Arctic states. On the other hand, it asserts China's right as a non-Arctic state to participate in Arctic affairs under international law. China's Arctic policy suggests a strong desire to push for the internationalisation of the Arctic's regional governance system. The white paper is not a strategy document, and is more interesting for what it omits, such as the national security dimension that is a major driver of China's Arctic ambitions.