Because of the harsh conditions and great distances in the Arctic, even antagonistic nations like the U.S. and Russia have had to work together there. However, the Arctic is warming more quickly than any other region of the world. Sea routes that sailors and explorers have long envisioned are beginning to materialise. Oil, minerals, trade routes, and even fish have started to pique attention outside of the polar regions thanks to the potential of Arctic riches.
China created the term “near-Arctic state” to advocate for a bigger involvement in Arctic administration, and it now refers to itself as one. In addition to planning mining and gas operations, it has sent out research missions and imagined a network of shipping lanes that would cross the Arctic or a “silk road on ice.” It calls itself an “active player, creator, and contributor in Arctic issues” who has spared no effort to give its wisdom to the development of the Arctic region.
The United States sees China, both in the Arctic and everywhere else in the world, as a potentially unstable entity that possesses the economic and military might to attempt to change the established order. This perspective is shared by the Chinese government. China is the Pentagon’s “pacing challenge” for the foreseeable future. Its Arctic plan, unveiled in October, emphasises the possibility of China exploiting commercial or scientific access to the Arctic for military gain.
Arctic region of the United States, China has engaged in a handful of mining activities, primarily in search of rare earth minerals with high economic value. It has economic ties with Greenland and a modest investment in an Alaskan zinc mine. The Danish government did not agree with the Chinese government’s plan to purchase a decommissioned U.S. Navy facility in Greenland.
China has utilised loans and infrastructure deals to establish doors for itself in Asia, Africa, and Latin American nations. However, the North American Arctic governments have traditionally viewed any proposed Chinese investments with scepticism and have frequently rejected them. Canada thwarted a $150 million gold mine agreement that would have placed Chinese interests close to military sites. Greenland has halted plans for a second Chinese mining due to environmental concerns.
China’s biggest opportunity to expand its Arctic influence may lie on the Russian side of the Arctic. The Arctic Council, the governing body of the Arctic States and regional nations, ceased its meetings after Russia’s war on Ukraine, refusing to interact with Russia. Russia could aim to establish its own Arctic governing council, with China playing a prominent role.
Despite its cooperative operation in the Bering Sea last fall and the joint development of a natural gas project in the Russian Arctic region, Moscow has been suspicious of allowing China to pursue its aspirations so near to its borders. And instead of leaving the existing council, Russia has requested that it restart its meetings with Russia at the table.
The United States should continue to make the Arctic a diplomatic, economic, and strategic priority to demonstrate its commitment to the region and its inhabitants. It should strengthen solidarity among its Arctic allies and investigate the conditions under which it could reengage with Russia, such as search-and-rescue readiness.
For the U.S., engaging China in the Arctic is seen as a zero-sum game. But there are chances for cooperation, including climate change and pollution control. China has played a crucial role in international accords to conserve Arctic fisheries and establish maritime shipping restrictions. At least on paper, China and the U.S. are committed to maintaining the Arctic as a peaceful and stable territory.
The coming years will serve as a crucial test. If present estimates hold, the Arctic may experience its first summer without ice by 2030.