China’s energy policy in the Arctic

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  • 08 December, 2020

Energy-related issues in the modern world have an impact on the development of political processes at both a regional, and a global level. On the one hand, energy factor turns into important aspect of the foreign policies of  some countries, on the other hand it leads to formation of political and economic situation in many regions of the world.

Energy resources is being considered as key force in terms of the development rates in economics of developed countries. In addition to being the guarantor of the social stability of each state, the existence of energy reserves is one of the factors that forms the basis of its national security.

The issue related to ensuring energy security in many states around the world has turned into one of the  current topics. At the same time, energy security constitutes the main part of the energy policy. In many industrialized countries, dependence on the import of energy reserves is considered under the concept of energy policy.

The demand for energy resources is increasing globally. This is particularly characteristic of economically developed states. One of such states is China. China has met its demand for oil by purchasing from Middle Eastern countries in recent years, and thereby it is not able to be effective politically in Middle East.

Considering that the political situation is not stable in this region,and paying attention to its energy security, the Chinese government was forced to reconsider the issue of oil purchase from the region. (1)

 Each country takes some measures to meet its demand for oil and strengthen its energy security. (2) The Chinese government has also taken some steps regarding this. These steps are as follows:

  • making bilateral treaties with the energy suppliers in different regions;

  • supporting  the investments to energy sector of the foreign countries deriving from its internal political policy;

  • making investments on foreign projects related to energy production.

China has its interests regarding to energy in many parts of the world. These interests did not bypass the Arctic too. Besides it, there are interests of other countries in the region and it does not conclude in just economic interests. China is a major country  economically in the world. On the other side, China is a  big consumer of carbohydrate minerals. That is why, it tries to implement its interests in the Arctic.

Chinese interests in the Arctic has become  one of the priority issues of its foreign policy. In spite of increasing its interests for Arctic during 2000-2010, the policy of the country related to the Arctic formalized just in 2018.

Chinese policy regarding to the Arctic was mentioned by Xi Jinping the President of the People's Republic of China in the congress hold by the Chinese Communist Party in 2017. Multilevel and multidirectional diplomatic concept was uttered for the development of the country in this congress. It is appropriate for realization of the Chinese strategic interests in the Arctic region.

As a result of the effects of global warming which leads to the melting of the glaciers simplified conductivity ability of vessels in the Arctic waters. It also facilitates the extraction of energy resources on the arctic shelf. As a result of this fact, besides of collaboration of the coastal arctic states, the interests of other countries has increased.

The Arctic states are Russia, Canada, USA, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland. They have own territories in the Arctic and each of them is a member of the Arctic Council.

It should be mentioned that, Russia, Canada, USA, Denmark and Norway have the right to extract energy resources in the Arctic. Besides these countries, there are some observer countries. These countries are China, Singapore, India, South Korea, Japan, and Italy.

It is impossible to determine explicitly the roles of the observer countries there. There are also different thoughts related to this, but such a view is put forward that their interests in the Arctic are relating to its economic opportunities. The difference between the observer states and the member states of the Arctic Council is that, they are less interested in environmental, geopolitical and security issues.

China has become a very active and ambitious participant in the processes taking place in the region. China’s presence there is linked to its energy policy. China has not direct access to the region and has to find a way to provide itself with resources.

According to some researches, China may resort to force in order to achieve its goals. However, others believe that it will use economic methods. This method is a traditional method which called soft power.

It is appropriate to China’s direct interests to conclude bilateral agreements with the arctic states in the region. By concluding these agreements, China will be able to join the projects of major companies in the region. Considering the economic potential of the region, China must be interested in joint cooperation with the Arctic states.

China’s dependence on energy resources has effected its foreign policy. Demand for energy resources is an important component for China in international relations. Therefore, the acquisition of these resources is considered the main goal of its foreign policy. China consumes 1000,000 barrels of oil per day. Half of this figure is imported.

Due to the lack of natural resources and dependence on foreign resources, China called oil an important component of its national energy security in 2003.  Distrust of the West will not create favorable conditions for China. The west is more advantageous compared to China, because it has 100 years of experience in the production of energy resources and trade relations.

China, in return, is lagging behind in terms of the accepted rules of the international energy business. According to some researches, China’s dependence on energy resources reflected in its diplomacy and economic policy.

China has the world’s biggest icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, which is not considered as a nuclear vessel. China has been an observer in the Arctic Council since 2013. It is an intergovernmental organization and is able to develop cooperation and coordinate relations between the member states of the council. Thanks to the Arctic Council, energy cooperation with participating countries is possible, say researchers at Shanghai University.

After joining the Arctic Council, China signed a free trade agreement with Iceland.  According to commentators, China's interest in the Arctic region is also linked to climate change. Thus, climate change has affected not only China’s ecosystem, but also its food related issues.

China's interests in the Arctic are not environmental. The Arctic has a greater ecpnpmic interests for China. The Chinese government is concerned that, Arctic states may refuse to cooperate with non-Arctic states in the region.

In turn, the Arctic states are also concerned about China's presence in the region. This is because for the past few years China has insisted on its position in the Arctic region. Thus, China has expressed its desire to extract natural resources in the region. In this regard, the official representative of the government, admiral of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy Ying Wuzhou expressed China's position claiming that the Arctic region belongs to all of the world nations.

According to China, the Arctic Five, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States cannot resolve territorial disputes in the region without the participation of other countries.

 China was one of the first countries to apply to the Arctic Council as an observer in 2006 and received the observer status in 2007.China respects the sovereignty of the Arctic states and will cooperate with them through bilateral agreements. The most effective mechanism for the territorial ownership of the Arctic is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and it has been signed by all member states of the Arctic Council except the USA.

The Chinese side respects this convention. China's deputy foreign minister expressed that it respects the rights of the Arctic countries, based on the convention. There are differences of opinion among some scholars regarding this convention. Therefore, some Chinese scholars believe the convention is against China's interests. As for China's interests in the region, these interests consist of three parts.

  • Energy resources

  • Scientific research in the Arctic

  • Economic potential of the sea route

The Arctic is a region rich in natural resources, which plays an important role in the resolution of global problems and the development of international cooperation, as well as affecting the global climate and biosphere. The region will gradually turn into a more important leading region in the world's geopolitical, economic and environmental systems. This is especially true for the northern hemisphere.

China's Arctic policy is outlined in its White Book.  This book was published by the Press Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China on January 26, 2018. This book illustrates the official position of the state on the current situation in the Arctic, relations between China and other Arctic states, as well as China's Arctic policy, its principles and direction.

Cooperation with Russia in the Arctic region has the character of strategic partnership, which is a priority for China. Russia is a big Arctic state, and the part of the Arctic which belongs to Russia is not only of strategic but also geopolitical and economic importance for the countries in the region.

From this point of view, any issue related to the Arctic in the international arena is impossible without Russia. Russia-China bilateral cooperation has reached the stage of strategic partnership in recent years. This, in turn, creates a favorable ground for good relations between the two countries in the region.

In the light of all this, it can be concluded that China's interest in the Arctic does not end with only just scientific and environmental interests, it is also related to economic interests. However, China's main interest in the region is relating to the extraction of energy resources. The fact that these interests prevail over other interests worries Arctic Council member states. As for China's interests in the region countries, it is more interested in cooperation with Russia. Because Russia has the largest territory and resources in the region.











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