Wed, Feb 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

China sees new Silk Road in Arctic

By HoonTing 雲程

China’s State Council on Jan. 26 published a white paper, titled “China’s Arctic Policy,” in which Beijing promises to become an “active participant” in Arctic affairs and seek to establish “a community with a shared future for humankind.”

China is not a coastal state of the Arctic Ocean, so the white paper from the outset excludes existing structures, such as the Arctic Council, and declares that “there is no single mechanism for managing Arctic affairs.” It invokes the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the Spitsbergen Treaty, signed in 1920 and now known as the Svalbard Treaty, as laws governing Arctic affairs.

The white paper says that China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and, based on the UN Charter, has the power to make decisions regarding matters of international security.

It says that the UNCLOS gives China the right to navigate and exploit resources in international seas. It also highlights that China is a signatory of the Spitsbergen Treaty, signed by the Republic of China’s government in 1925, as proof that it has the legal right to make use of the Arctic Ocean.

With regard to international politics, it talks about “responsibility” and calls itself a “stakeholder,” reflecting the idea proposed in 2005 by then-US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick, that China should become “a responsible stakeholder in the international system.” The paper takes this as the theoretical basis for China’s participation in Arctic affairs.

China’s Arctic ambitions have arisen against the background of global warming. Experts estimate that by the year 2040 there will be no ice in the Arctic Ocean in summer. This will open a navigation route across the Arctic, which would be good for shipping between Europe and Asia, as the distance is only a little more than half of the traditional route via the Suez Canal and would take two-thirds the time.

Since last year, China COSCO Shipping Corp has established container terminals in Russia at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula and Murmansk and in Zeebrugge, Belgium, which form part of its deployment along the Arctic shipping route.

However, China does not just want a shipping route and civilian items like fishing grounds and management of Chinese travelers. The region contains one-quarter of the world’s oil reserves and and minerals such as manganese. Seen from the angle of the Spitsbergen Treaty, China would like to seize the Svalbard Islands, which form a strategic crossroads in its worldwide connections and would help it control the North Atlantic Ocean.

However, just as China’s access to the Indian Ocean goes through the Strait of Malacca, presenting it with a “Malacca dilemma,” its Arctic Ocean strategy involves a similar dilemma in that its ships must pass through straits controlled by Japan, including the La Perouse, Tsugaru, Tsushima (Eastern Channel), Osumi and Miyako.

In June 2016, Chinese naval vessels passed through Japanese territorial waters off the Tokara Islands, which China argued was actually the Osumi Strait. Apart from holding drills in the first and second island chains, this move was also directed at China’s Arctic strategy.

To wield influence, China needs at least to have the status of a coastal state of the Sea of Japan. With this in mind, China has been acting tough with North Korea and could even use military force, so that after a war it could obtain key strategic locations such as Tumangang at the mouth of the Tumen River. Such a move would be coordinated with large-scale illegal migration of Chinese into eastern Siberia.

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