China’s Growing Arctic Presence
China's recent admission to the Arctic Council under observer status reflects a new reality: the world's economic powers now regard development of natural resources and commerce in an increasingly ice-free Arctic as a top priority.
When China — along with Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India, and Italy — was granted permanent observer status in the Arctic Council last month, it left many experts wondering whether a paradigm shift in geopolitics is taking place in the region.
Until recently, security issues, search and rescue protocols, indigenous rights, climate change, and other environmental priorities were the main concerns of the intergovernmental forum, which includes the eight voting states bordering the Arctic and several indigenous organizations that enjoy participant status. But the admission of China and other major Asian economic powers as observer states is yet another strong sign, experts say, that the economic development of an increasingly ice-free Arctic is becoming a top priority of nations in the region and beyond.
"Five or six years ago, most people would have reacted skeptically to the suggestion that China, for example, would become a major player in the Arctic," says Rob Huebert, associate director of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary and a board member of Canada’s Polar Commission. "But in the past few years, China has been investing considerable resources to ensure it will be a major Arctic power. Like other countries now looking northward, it wants to exploit the emerging shipping opportunities and the largely unexploited energy and mineral resources in the region."
Of those non-Arctic states admitted as observers to the council last month, China dwarfs the others in terms of its economic reach and its global track record of making deals for resource development from Asia, to Africa, to Iceland twice rejected a Chinese proposal to buy a huge farm, fearing it was part of a plan to build an Arctic port. South America.
Bench in Arctic landscape image via Shutterstock.
Read more at Yale Environment360.