China creates facts north of the arctic circle
When looking at the globe from a different perspective, you get a new view of the world. Especially worthwhile is a glance towards the Arctic. Even before the melting of the ice caps, the Arctic became a geopolitical fault zone. It is the discrete setting of the power struggles of the future. Northern Europe, Russia and the United States clash directly with regard to their boarders and interests. Ironically, despite its long distance to the Arctic, China uses these circumstances as a strategic advantage.
China’s arctic white paper strategy
In the early days of 2018, China published its Arctic white paper strategy. In this text, Peking emphasizes the importance of the Arctic for the future of mankind. China pledges to be a part of the development on this common vision and do their part. This win-win rhetoric is what Xi Jinping is never too tired to underline since the initiation of the gigantic infrastructure project „Belt-and-Road-Initative“. It is not surprising, that China calls its arctic strategy „polar silk road“. Asia and the west should be linked with a faster northern route which leads to opportunities for all countries involved. Beyond those trade routes, complex and substantial geopolitical realities are hidden.
A well hidden strategy
A crucial part of tapping into new territory and waters, is gaining access to natural ressources. These economic opportunities apply to the exploitation of the Arctic too, but are, however, not suitable for profitable commercial use in the short and medium term. Fully aware of this reality, Peking leaves the world believing, that economic goals are their true motivation for their Arctic strategy. Nonetheless, China’s strategy is much more about political goals, the prerogative of interpretation and power projections. On top of that, it is striking, how Peking constantly points out the fragility of the arctic ecosphere and its significance for the global climate in their Arctic white paper strategy. It is stressed, that climate change has to be taken seriously, responsibility for the development of nature has to be taken and sustainable solutions have to be found. With their participation in the climate discussion, China seizes a rhetorically important seat at the table in world politics, which was systematically neglected by the Trump administration. The message is clear: in a world with gloomy perspectives, China takes responsibility. China underlines their concession to the climate scientifically with polar research. It goes without saying, that climate research is used for ressource exploitation, submarine navigation and satellite positioning too. Due to infrastructure and trade cooperations with the Arctic littoral states, China establishes bilateral partnerships but also new subordinations. Besides the United States, Canada, Sweden and Denmark, all Arctic littoral states are sympathetic towards China. Peking’s expansionistic and international agenda is also visible in a different area in the white paper strategy. With its self-proclamation as an Arctic-near state, China establishes strong projections of power. Geographically speaking, this is absurd, but nevertheless, China creates facts and a gradual projection of their legal understanding.
With science diplomacy, clever multilateralism and international law, China establishes a complex dependency, which the Chinese can use situational and opportunistic for their own gain. For this purpose, Peking does not have to resort to classic show of force by economic sanctions or the military. The example of the Arctic shows, that strategic actions in the Chinese sense are not lead by one dimensional calculation or rationality, but rather have to be understood as an open and flexible game plan. China’s true strategy is normalizing Chinese practices and values.
The Arctic is evolving to be the new Mediterranean
It is assumed, that parallel to the melting of the pack ice, the Arctic evolves to be the Mediterranean of the 21th century with the corresponding migration dramas and territorial fights. China then would be in the pole position to have the global political destinies in their hand.
Dr. Remo Reginold