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Bolatkyzy N. China’s Interests in the Arctic Region

China expanded its “Belt and Road” initiative by including an Arctic sea route, which connect the country with Europe. Thus, China stressed the growing economic and strategic importance of the polar region.

China’s interest in the Arctic is due to the following factors.

Firstly, the Arctic is a new trade route. The Arctic route will cut shipping time by over 30% from East Asia to Europe.

Secondly, the Arctic is an important source of minerals. The Arctic is rich in gold, uranium, diamonds and other rare minerals, with a total value of up to $5 trillion [1]. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of undiscovered oil.

Thirdly, the Arctic could face with a serious environmental problem. The rapid melting of Arctic ice has a direct and indirect influence on the Chinese climate [2].

Fourthly, the Arctic is a vital important strategic component of geopolitical influence [3].

The Arctic airspace and the Arctic Ocean water are strategically important points for the main nuclear powers. Control over this region is extremely important in maintaining the peace and stability around the world [4].

China wins observer status in Arctic Council in 2013 [5]. In recent years, China has achieved significant results through a strategy of “soft power” (voluntary participation, sympathy, attractiveness, etc.) [6].

According to Russian experts, the presence in the Arctic Council has purely reputational and symbolic significance for Beijing. In addition, China expects that in a new capacity, it will be able to bring its position to the member states of the Arctic Council and thus take the feasible part in the formation and implementation of the regional agenda [7].

On June 20, 2017, the National Development and Reform Commission and the State Oceanic Administration of China published a document titled “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative”, where Arctic route was for the first time included under China’s Belt and Road initiative. This document sets out priorities for the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road [8].

According to this document, the main priorities are: green development, ocean-based prosperity, maritime security, innovative growth and collaborative governance. China is ready to work with all countries along the Maritime Silk Road:

– jointly undertake marine ecological conservation and provide high quality marine ecological services, , thus safeguarding global marine ecological security

– provide technical assistance to countries along the road in drafting plans for sustainably utilizing marine resources;

– work with all parties in conducting scientific surveys of navigational routes, setting up land-based monitoring stations, carrying out research on climatic and environmental changes in the Arctic, as well as providing navigational forecasting services;

– work with all parties in conducting scientific surveys of navigational routes, setting up land-based monitoring stations, carrying out research on climatic and environmental changes in the Arctic, as well as providing navigational forecasting services

– develop mechanisms for cooperation in “blue economy”

– The Global Blue Economy Partnership Forum will be launched to promote new concepts and best practices of the blue economy, and to boost marine industrial integration [9].

In addition, Beijing also encourages Chinese companies to take part in the commercial use of the Arctic route and states that China will actively participate in the events organized by Arctic-related international organizations [10].

Professor Wang Yiwei (the Renmin University in Beijing) noted that the Arctic has great economic, environmental and strategic significance and who gets to define the rules of the region matters a great deal to China, Europe, Russia and United States [11].

Dr. Marc Lanteigne (Massey University, New Zealand) explained that the document published in June 2017 “is the first official confirmation that the Arctic Ocean is among the ‘blue economic passages’ Beijing is seeking to develop”[12].

Interestingly, the document does not review China’s accomplishments to date in the Arctic or, more specifically, along the Northern Sea Route. Yet for years already, the Chinese government and affiliated companies and organizations have been eyeing its development. In 2013, Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO sent the first-ever container ship through the Northern Sea Route. In 2015, Chinese banks lent $12 billion to the Yamal liquefied natural gas project, which lies in the middle of the Northern Sea Route [13].

Note also that “Yamal LNG” is a concrete example of interstate cooperation in the Arctic (50.1% – Russian NOVATEK, 20% – French Total, 20% – Chinese CNPC, 9.9% – Silk Road Fund [14].

At the same time, China insists on such conditions that most of the equipment for the plant will be produced by Chinese shipyards, and Chinese shipping companies will also transport it. Thus, Beijing is trying to maximize its profits [15].

June 27, 2017, in Dalian (China) Prime Minister Li Keqiang met with Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipila during the annual World Economic Forum meeting known as Summer Davos. During the meeting, Beijing and Helsinki pledged to strengthen bilateral cooperation in Arctic affairs. On the Finnish side, one of the most interesting proposals is for a €3 billion (US$3.4 billion) “Arctic Corridor” railway that would connect Northern Europe with China and Arctic Ocean deep-water ports. The idea is being pitched by a group of Finnish academics and business leaders. It would connect the city of Rovaniemi in northern Finland with the Norwegian port of Kirkenes on the Barents Sea. os would be offloaded to the railway and sent southward through rail connections to Scandinavia, Helsinki, the Baltic states and the rest of Europe [16].

While Chinese interest in the project is uncertain, firms from China are already making hefty investments in Finland. China’s Sunshine Kaidi New Energy Group invested $1.13 billion in a new wood-based biodiesel plant in the northern city of Kemi. More Chinese investments are on the way [17].

Although there is currently no clear leader for establishing improved freight routes that connect China with Northern Europe, Finland and Latvia are emerging as the two favorites due to a combination of geographic, economic and logistical considerations [18].

During Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, in July 4, 2017, Russia and China reached an agreement on expanding cooperation and jointly building an “Ice Silk Road” along the Northern Sea Route [19]. The Arctic route, which presents opportunities for cooperation between the countries along the route, could increase the importance of ports in northern China, such as Dalian and Tianjin. Sailing distance between ports in northern China and Western Europe, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea is 25 to 55 percent shorter than the traditional shipping routes [20].

Chinese expert Guo Peiqing believes that Russia has doubts about China’s interest in the Arctic. At the same time, according to the expert, “China is not exactly going to promote its interests through the military force. China’s military presence in the Arctic is irrational and will not benefit China [21].

Russian experts note that it is preferable for Russia to work and exchange experience with Europe, rather than with China. But after the Western sanctions, Russians wanted to show that they have an alternative to Western technology, to Western partnerships. That’s why they are trying to boost up the Chinese presence in the region – to show that, first of all, they can both do it on their own, and second, that they have other partners in the region [22].

According to the expert M. Lanteigne, offered, “Once China began to deepen its Arctic diplomacy, along with references to the country as a ‘near-Arctic state’, there were concerns among other Arctic actors, especially the United States, that Beijing far northern interests were primarily motivated by regional resources and that China was seeking to challenge the political status quo in the region. Chinese policymakers have been seeking to dispel those concerns by placing greater emphasis on scientific diplomacy and advocating bilateral partnerships in the study of the affects of local climate change [23].

There had been signs that the Arctic was being more commonly considered in Chinese policymaking circles as a future addition to the Belt and Road trade route configurations [24]. T It was recently noted by scientists of Tsinghua University (Beijing) Li Xiguang and Hu Angang, academics in Tsinghua University in Beijing that “The full name of the strategy will be ‘One Belt, One Road, One Circle’ (“yidai yilu yiquan”), and the circle refers to the Arctic Circle,”

It was recently that in the future “Belt and the Way” can be renamed “One Belt, One Road and One Circle” (“一带 一圈 一圈”), as the Arctic Circle becomes deeper Integrated into the trade policy of China [25].

Toward the end of 2019, China plans to double the capacity of its icebreakers by commissioning a new research vessel, which will be a huge step forward for Beijing to better understand the consequences of climate change in the Arctic and reiterate its ability to become a crucial player in the region. China plans to build a second icebreaker worth $ 158 million. This will be the first national icebreaker, since the first icebreaker “Xuelun” was built in Ukraine 23 years ago [26].


Conclusions and generalizations

Firstly, China’s interest in the Arctic is associated not only with the transportation of cargo to Europe, but also with the development of hydrocarbons on the Arctic shelf

Secondly, China does not aspire to play a leading role in the Arctic (as, for example, in the APR). Beijing is aimed at cooperation and building bilateral relations with each of the Arctic states separately.

Thirdly, Beijing does not yet have geopolitical claims to the Arctic, but he regards the Arctic as the property of all mankind and is ready to develop Arctic routes and conduct research.

In general, China does not make sharp movements in the Arctic region. Given its long-term interests and strategies, Beijing will act on this direction thoroughly, first “probing” the situation and exploring all the arguments “for” and “against”.


[1]贾桂德, 石午虹. 对新形势下中国参与北极事务的思考 (В соответствии с новой ситуацией, Китай участвует в Арктических делах) //http://bit.ly/2u449Jv.

[2] Китай готов купить у России все арктические углеводороды //https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2017/06/16_a_10724435.shtml.

[3] Китай возрождает свои арктические амбиции //https://regnum.ru/news/2289554.html.

[4]中国开始在北极“闷声发大财”,但还有内功要练 (Китай начал «тихо осваивать» Арктику, но все еще надо развивать внутренний потенциал) //http://pit.ifeng.com/a/20161207/50379215_0.shtml.

[5]中国成为北极理事会正式观察员国 (Китай стал официальным государством-наблюдателем Арктического совета) //http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2013-05-15/170927131890.shtml.

[6] Интересы Китая в Арктике //http://arctic-centre.com/ru/analitika/item/106-interesy-kitaya-v-arktike.

[7] Членство Китая в Арктическом совете //http://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/chlenstvo-kitaya-v-arkticheskom-sovete/.

[8] Suokas J. China adds Arctic sea route to its Silk Road plan //http://gbtimes.com/world/china-adds-arctic-sea-route-its-silk-road-plan.

[9] Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative //http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-06/20/c_136380414.htm.

[10] Suokas J. China adds Arctic sea route to its Silk Road plan //http://gbtimes.com/world/china-adds-arctic-sea-route-its-silk-road-plan.

[11] Там же.

[12] China’s Belt and Road Initiative moves into the Arctic //http://www.globaltrademag.com/global-logistics/chinas-belt-road-initiative-moves-arctic.

[13] Там же.

[14] Проект «Ямал СПГ» //http://www.novatek.ru/ru/business/yamal-lng/.

[15] An Uneasy Alliance: The Limits of the China-Russia Arctic Partnership //https://www.newsdeeply.com/arctic/community/2017/06/21/an-uneasy-alliance-the-limits-of-the-china-russia-arctic-partnership.

[16] Finland could serve as China’s Arctic gateway for OBOR //http://www.atimes.com/article/finland-serve-chinas-arctic-gateway-obor/.

[17] Там же.

[18] Там же.

[19] China, Russia agree to jointly build «Ice Silk Road» //http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-07/04/c_136417241.htm.

[20] China, Russia Team Up on Ice Silk Road //https://worldmaritimenews.com/archives/224690/china-russia-team-up-on-ice-silk-road/.

[21] Китай готов купить у России все арктические углеводороды //https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2017/06/16_a_10724435.shtml.

[22] An Uneasy Alliance: The Limits of the China-Russia Arctic Partnership //https://www.newsdeeply.com/arctic/community/2017/06/21/an-uneasy-alliance-the-limits-of-the-china-russia-arctic-partnership.

[23] China Plans Arctic Belt and Road Initiatives //https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/china-plans-arctic-belt-and-road-initiatives.

[24] China Loops the Arctic Into Its Belt and Road Vision //https://www.newsdeeply.com/arctic/community/2017/06/30/china-loops-the-arctic-into-its-belt-and-road-vision.

[25] Will the Arctic be the next stop on China’s new Silk Road? //http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2095078/will-arctic-be-next-stop-chinas-new-silk-road.

[26] Арктика зовет. Китай до конца 2016 г начнет строительство своего 1-го национального ледокола //http://neftegaz.ru/news/view/151652-Arktika-zovet.-Kitay-do-kontsa-2016-g-nachnet-stroitelstvo-svoego-1-go-natsionalnogo-ledokola.

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