China seeks a more active role in the Arctic

A view of Shanghai, China. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)
China defines itself as a near-Arctic state and says it will actively participate with wisdom and strength to future protection and development.

Protecting the Arctic environment is a common responsibility and we will make our contribution to this, said Wang Hong, Chief of State Oceanic Administration with China’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

He was speaking at the opening of Arctic Circle China Forum in Shanghai last week. With more than 500 participants from some 30 countries, the event was the largest ever in China exclusively with an Arctic focus.

Wang Hong highlighted the need for urgent efforts to combat climate change and proposed to strengthen international science cooperation to get a better understanding of the warming Arctic.

Climate change in the Arctic impacts all of us. What happens in the Arctic is important for people in China, Wang said, and proposed to expand joint expeditions into ice-covered waters in Arctic Ocean.

China has for years sailed its research icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) on northbound voyages, along Russia’s Northern Sea Route, across the central Arctic Ocean and through Canada’s Northwest Passage.

A second research icebreaker aimed for Antarctica and Arctic waters, named Xue Long II, will be commissioned later this summer and sail for the Polar Research Institute of China based in Shanghai.

People attend the launch ceremony of China’s first domestically built polar icebreaker Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2, at a shipyard in Shanghai, China September 10, 2018. (Reuters)
Arctic partnerships

Wang made it clear that China respects the sovereignty of Arctic nations, but wants to expand partnership with countries along what Beijing defines as the Polar Silk Road, one of the six silk roads within the Belt and Road initiative linking China with Europe through transport routes, infrastructure development, trading of natural resources and other areas of cooperation.

We will promote cultural and economic exchange, Wang said.

It was infrastructure development that was the top issue when Russian President Vladimir Putin in late April visited Beijing to attend Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top meeting on the Belt and Road initiative.

Russian gas company Novatek recently signed two major deals with the China National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Company Ltd (CNODC) and CNOOC Ltd. Each of the agreements include a 10 percent participation interest in the upcoming Arctic LNG 2 project in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, in northwest Russia.

In July 2018, the first tanker with LNG from the Russian Arctic arrived at port in Rudong, China.

Iceland welcomes Chinese participation
The Arctic Circle China Forum was held in Shanghai, Friday and Saturday. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The Arctic Circle Assembly is an Icelandic initiative with annual gatherings in Reykjavik with additional Forums previously held in Korea, Scotland, Washington D.C., Greenland, the Faroe Islands and other locations as international interests for Arctic affairs have increased over the last few years.

Chairman of Arctic Circle, Iceland’s former President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson, praised China’s priorities towards Arctic cooperation.

“The future of China and Asia is closely related to the Arctic and I’m delighted to see China actively participating in Arctic related dialogues and collaborations with a constructive attitude,” Grimsson said.

Zhang Xinsheng, former Vice-Minister of Education and now President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said China’s awareness of what happens up north is closely linked with climate change.

“Especially young people and business people are concerned about Arctic climate change. Arctic is not that far away,” he said.

Many officials from countries in Europe and North America participating in Shanghai arrived directly from the Arctic Council Ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland, earlier last week.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: More assertive U.S. Arctic policy puts Ottawa and Washington on collision course, Radio Canada International

China: Leaders downplay divisions at Arctic Circle conference in China, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: Did Finland fail as Chair of the Arctic Council?, Blog by Timo Koivurova

Iceland: Environmental groups call for action on black carbon pollution, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Temperatures on Svalbard have been above normal for 100 straight months, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Chinese-built tanker tests ice in remote Arctic waters, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Nordic leaders stand united as they sit with Putin in Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Warming climate puts bonds between Arctic nations to the test, Alaska Public Media

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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