China and Russia should cooperate in the Arctic

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/8 18:38:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since the beginning of 2019, the world's major countries have stepped up efforts to compete for regional influence in the Arctic. The US and Russia have invested huge amounts of military and diplomatic resources in the region, triggering fierce competition. 

According to media reports, US Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer stated in late 2018 that the US will have to be more engaged in the Arctic region. Recently, he is reportedly "told reporters last week Washington is exploring the possibility of sending a ship through the Northwest Passage this summer as part of a freedom of navigation operation," reported Radio Canada International. It showed the growing importance of the Arctic region to US global strategic landscape.

The US' strategic intentions in the Arctic have alarmed Russia. The Russian military warned against any US misadventure in the Arctic, indicating that "Moscow could sink or detain foreign ships in Arctic waters" unless they abide by Russia's new rules, according to Daily Express. 

The competition among major powers in the Arctic region poses a serious challenge to China. Although China doesn't have an Arctic coastline, it has the right to participate in Arctic affairs after becoming a permanent observer of the Arctic Council in 2013. 

Moreover, with the growing influence of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, energy development in the Arctic and future utilization of the region's waterway involves China's vital interests. It is an important diplomatic task for China to have a say in the Arctic in the future.

However, Beijing currently faces a very complicated situation in Arctic affairs. In the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting held on May 6 and 7, 2019, the US described China as a threat to Arctic countries and interfered with China's cooperation with countries in the Arctic. Faced with interference from the US and other Western countries, China should be watchful while striving for a broader space for its actions through proactive diplomatic channels.

Most Arctic countries have an interest in maintaining peace, developing resources and transportation routes in the region, which is also consistent with China's philosophy. Arctic coastal countries such as Norway invited China into the Arctic Council because they expect Beijing's participation to speed up the development of the region. In 2017, China and Russia jointly proposed the idea of actively carrying out Arctic waterway cooperation. The white paper titled "China's Arctic Policy" issued in 2018 proclaims to the world that China is ready to promote international collaboration in the region. Meanwhile, Russia has gradually realized that development of the region requires international cooperation, which demands China's active participation.

Russia is well aware that the opening of Arctic waterways will promote development of its Arctic coastal region. At the same time, Russia will also play a key role in global transportation, linking Europe and Asia. However, the infrastructure in Russian Arctic coastal areas is poor, the ports and living facilities built during the days of the Soviet Union have long been out of repair. Therefore, Russia needs to introduce a large amount of state investment to modernize and develop its infrastructure. In the context of the long-term deterioration of US-Russia ties, Arctic waterway development has significant demand for the Chinese market, capital and technology.

Moreover, the development and exploitation of oil, gas and other resources in the Russian Arctic requires China's participation. Yamal LNG project, Russia's largest international energy cooperation plan in the Arctic, is supplying liquefied natural gas to European and Asian countries. China National Petroleum Corporation, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Development Bank and Silk Road Fund together financed the Yamal project for $19 billion, accounting for 63 percent of the total investment Yamal received. 

In general, China and Russia share the same interests in international Arctic cooperation and Moscow is increasingly happy to see China increase its investment in Arctic resources development and waterway utilization.  Working hand in hand, China and Russia can surely explore more space for international cooperation in the Arctic.

The author is a post-doctorate researcher at the Centre for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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