China and the Arctic: An Element of an Evolving Global Strategy


2012-08-14 by Robbin Laird

China is building an expanding global presence strategy, economically, politically and militarily.  And the impact of what they do on others is on the rise as well.

We looked in our first Strategic Inflections Reports on the impact of the Chinese economy and its evolution worldwide.  This report was based on unique access to the Chinese investment class.

Our next SIP Report has looked at the Strategic Consequences of the Euro-Crisis and in that report we looked as well at the growing impact of the Arctic on shaping a new European map.

The Chinese are playing at both ends of this map.

On the one hand, they are expanding their place within the Greek economy and shipping industries and see the possibilities inherent in the Euro crisis to expand influence.

On the other hand, the Chinese are actively engaged in shaping an Arctic strategy, and while the U.S. remains a “reluctant Arctic power,” the PRC – although not a member of the Arctic Council – is not.  The Chinese according to Danish sources have targeted rare earth mineral supplies in Greenland and have used a variety of means to achieve a key role in leveraging these assets.

A Chinese map regarding the Arctic. Credit: SIPRI

The Chinese as well are looking at the maritime routes likely to emerge in the Arctic over time.  These interests are both commercial and military, and Canadian sources have made it clear that they are concerned with the prospects of enhanced maritime activity by the Chinese by the Chinese navy.

In a very useful input to understanding the Chinese and the Arctic, Linda Jakobson wrote a piece published by SIPRI in 2010.

China and the Arctic

Because China’s economy is reliant on foreign trade, there are substantial commercial implications if shipping routes are shortened during the summer months each year. Nearly half of China’s gross domestic product (GDP) is thought to be dependent on shipping.

The trip from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Northern Sea Route—which runs along the north coast of Russia from the Bering Strait in the east to Novaya Zemlya in the west—is 6400 kilometres shorter than the route via the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal… Moreover, due to piracy, the cost of insurance for ships travelling via the Gulf of Aden towards the Suez Canal increased more than tenfold between September 2008 and March 2009.

The author also cited a Chinese article dealing with the Arctic in briefly discussing the military dimension.

The Arctic also ‘has significant military value, a fact recognized by other countries’. In a rare open-source article about the Arctic by an officer of the People’s Liberation Army, Senior Colonel Han Xudong warns that the possibility of use of force cannot be ruled out in the Arctic due to complex sovereignty disputes

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