China’s participation contributes to development of Arctic region

By Zhang Xia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/1 21:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Russia's Far Eastern Federal University revealed that they are working with their Chinese counterparts from Harbin Engineering University in developing the world's first subglacial communications technology for exploration and production of oil and gas in the Arctic region. This is considered a basic mission in developing the Arctic. Russia all along has maintained that melting of ice has made it easier to recover resources in the region and consolidated Russia's position as the world's leading energy power.

Nonetheless, Canada, also a resource-abundant country, takes the melting of ice as a threat to its exploration and shipping activities, its sovereignty claim to the waters on the Northwest Passage, as well as the ecological environment.

In the view of Greenland's self-rule government, developing Arctic mineral resources helps increase the income of its people and reduce economic reliance on Denmark.

But the Danish central government thinks Greenland's move for resource exploitation will enhance its economic independence and foster a sense of secessionism, which will then pose a grave challenge to Denmark's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Therefore, though resource development in the Arctic region is an economic decision, strategic consideration beyond the exploitation of resources has affected related policies. Nations outside the region are likely to get caught up in the political game among Arctic countries when participating in development of the region. Hence, it's difficult to separately view Arctic politics and economy.

The US is a special one among the Arctic countries. On the one hand, it takes part in the affairs of the region as a regional power, while most of the time it views and operates in the region as the only superpower in the world. The US is an Arctic country thanks to Alaska, home to 20 percent of recoverable reserves in the Arctic region, next only to Russia. Furthermore, the state also boasts of abundant mineral resources like zinc, bronze and rare earths. Its state-of-the-art offshore drilling technology combined with solid infrastructure helps the US enjoy the status of one of the most prominent Arctic countries.

However, the US government tends to consider offshore oil and gas as a strategic reserve. The proportion of Alaska's share in the national output dropped to 3 percent in 2015 from 11 percent in 2000. Dwindling income from oil and gas extraction is no good news for the local government. In particular, since former US president Barack Obama issued an executive order to block offshore drilling in Arctic waters, thousands of Alaska residents lost their jobs.

Now the Donald Trump administration has taken some pragmatic steps. He has proposed a host of international shipping routes through the Bering Strait and six two-way routes to deal with a surge in Arctic traffic. In addition, he revoked Obama's Alaska order, paving the way for both local and international parties to participate in development of the Arctic.

China released in late January its first Arctic policy white paper, pledging to actively participate in Arctic development, utilization and governance adhering to the principles of "respect, cooperation, win-win results and sustainability." China will not overstep or be absent, the paper says. It's an authentic description of what China has done in the Arctic region over the past two decades and also a policy guide for its future activities. The international community has nothing to worry about.

Development in the Arctic region means an opportunity for China. In turn, China's participation also provides a chance for the Arctic, as Beijing is ready to tackle the issue of climate change and environmental deterioration in the Arctic Circle when Washington has quit the Paris climate accord.

For the Arctic states, China proves to be a proactive, reliable force with a huge market, ample finance, advanced technology and outstanding capacity in infrastructure.

Therefore, it shall cooperate with the Arctic countries in an open and mutually beneficial way.

For instance, it can encourage Russian and Northern European shipping companies to launch services on Arctic shipping routes.

Recent history has proved that China has more friends in the Arctic Circle, despite the "China Arctic threat theory."

The author is director of the polar strategy research center at the Polar Research Institute of China.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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