China’s Arctic Policy and its Potential Impact on Canada’s Arctic Security

This article originally featured in The Canadian Naval Evaluate and is republished with permission. Learn it in its unique type right here.

By Sherman Xiaogang Lai

The Individuals’s Republic of China (PRC) shouldn’t be an Arctic nation nevertheless it was admitted into the Arctic Council in 2013, making the entire at that time 12. (Immediately there are eight member states, plus 13 observer states in addition to 13 inter-governmental organizations, and 13 non-governmental organizations.) The PRC is, however, not content with its present standing and is decided to increase its voice in Arctic affairs by exploiting the Arctic state of affairs for its financial and financial power.1

It has been 40 years since Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) started his market-oriented financial reforms in 1979. Via abandoning China’s Stalinist command financial system and trading with the West (including Japan), Deng’s reforms introduced the Chinese individuals an excellent life that their ancestors had not dreamed of. Trading with the West also enabled the ruling Chinese language Communist Get together (CCP) to build up a modern air drive and a blue-water navy whereas providing it with adequate financial assets to develop into a state with international affect. However, opposite to the expectations of the West that economic liberalization would lead to democratization, since 2012 the PRC has moved toward dictatorship beneath Xi Jinping’s leadership.2 As properly, Deng’s economic reforms didn’t help remedy a set of explosive issues inherited from Imperial China and the CCP revolution (1921-1949). Among the many points that stay to be resolved are the South China Sea, Taiwan, and Korea. These points immediately concern the legitimacy of the CCP’s rule. China’s Arctic coverage, subsequently, needs to be examined in the context of its domestic politics and its geopolitical and geostrategic considerations.

The PRC’s Arctic Policy

In January 2018, 5 years after it was admitted into the Arctic Council, the PRC government released a 10-page white paper, “China’s Arctic Paper.”three The white paper claims firstly that the melting of the Arctic sea ice has profoundly raised the Arctic’s strategic worth because the intersection between North America, Europe, and East Asia, as a area of unexploited assets reminiscent of pure fuel, oil and fish shares, and because the birthplace of storms that may have an effect on the whole northern hemisphere. The melting Arctic, based on the white paper, has a “direct impact on China’s climate system and ecological environment, and, in turn, on its economic interests in agriculture, forestry, fishery, marine industry and other sectors.” China, the white paper claims, is subsequently a “Near-Arctic State” and “an important stakeholder in Arctic affairs.”

China also has “rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines, … and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area,” as stipulated in treaties similar to UNCLOS and the Spitsbergen Treaty, and basic worldwide regulation. As well as, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China “shoulders the important mission of jointly promoting peace and security in the Arctic.”4

In other words, the PRC authorities believes that China is entitled to rights in Arctic affairs. The white paper states that China is capable of claiming its rights of “utiliz[ing] sea routes and explor[ing] and develop[ing] the resources in the Arctic.”5 The white paper goes further by saying that “China’s capital, technology, market, knowledge and experience is expected to play a major role in expanding the network of shipping routes in the Arctic and facilitating the economic and social progress of the coastal States along the routes.” The white paper states that China’s objectives and approaches in the Arctic are “to understand, protect, develop, and participate in the governance of the Arctic, so as to safeguard the common interests of all countries and the international community in the Arctic, and promote sustainable development of the Arctic.” As proof to help China’s proper, the white paper traced China’s participation within the Svalbard Treaty in 1925 that acknowledges each state’s right in Arctic analysis. Worldwide regulation thus is the PRC’s basis to participate within the Arctic affairs.

Vice-Minister of Overseas Affairs, Kong Xuanyou, holds a replica of China’s Arctic White Paper during a press briefing in January 2018. (Xinhua)

There’s, nevertheless, a crucial drawback in regards to the PRC’s justification of its rights within the Arctic. It was the federal government of the Republic of China (ROC) – i.e., what turned the West-friendly Taiwan relatively than the PRC that joined the Svalbard Treaty. At its start in 1949, the PRC government denounced the international obligations of China’s previous governments. In contrast, the ROC government honored the international treaties that the Chinese language Imperial authorities had signed when it came into being in 1912. The PRC thus voluntarily gave up its entitled rights within the Arctic at its delivery. Furthermore, the PRC dedicated itself to anti-West revolutionary wars for 20 years, even disregarding the Soviet Union’s advice of caution. The PRC didn’t attempt to work with the West till the late 1970s. By then, the PRC leaders have been dealing with a Soviet army menace and a monetary crisis. By means of forming a de facto alliance with the West, the PRC beneath Deng’s leadership could not only ignore the Soviet army menace but in addition overcome its financial crisis. When the West opened its markets to the PRC, Deng started his market-oriented reforms.

Through the course of, the PRC leaders got here to know the United Nations Conventions on the Regulation of the Sea (UNCLOS) and discovered that China was entitled to some maritime rights and may benefit tremendously from worldwide collaboration.6 Among the many earliest advantages was China’s successful Antarctic program within the mid-1980s.7 One other benefit was controlling some atolls within the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in 1988. China carried out this operation within the identify of implementing a decision of the United Nations Instructional, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to build a couple of remark stations within the South China Sea. The operation led to a China-Vietnam naval skirmish in March 1988.eight It foreshadowed the present escalated rigidity within the South China Sea and reflected the PRC’s pragmatic angle toward worldwide regulation. When the Everlasting Courtroom of Arbitration at the Hague (PCA) concluded in July 2016 that a China-controlled shoal within the Spratly Islands belongs to the Philippines, the spokesman of the Chinese Overseas Ministry termed the arbitration choice a “piece of waste paper.”9 Though compliance with PCA rulings is voluntary, it goes without saying that China’s angle toward the PCA’s arbitration raised suspicion over its sincerity about worldwide regulation on which its Arctic policy is based.

Nationalism and the Legitimacy of the CCP’s Rule

The PRC’s pragmatic use of international regulation in the Arctic and the South China Sea comes from its try and preserve the CCP’s legitimacy to rule China, a continuing challenge that it has faced since its start in 1921 in its rivalry towards Chinese Nationalists. The CCP was a creation of the Soviet Union’s efforts to export its Bolshevik revolution by way of the Communist Worldwide (Comintern) affiliation (1919-1943). Communism subsequently turned the idea of the CCP’s legitimacy. Moscow satisfied the leaders of the influential Nationalists, who have been decided to unify the nation, to type a coalition with the CCP in trade for Moscow’s army and financial assistance. The CCP then exploited the Nationalists’ efforts of nationwide unification, and the result was the First Nationalist-CCP warfare (1927-1937). Japan’s invasion of China saved the CCP from destruction. During China’s warfare of resistance (1937-1945), the CCP adopted Moscow’s instruction and accepted the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist authorities. After Japan surrendered, the CCP refused to put its military beneath the Nationalist government’s command. The Second Nationalist-CCP conflict (or the Chinese language civil conflict) (1946-1949) thus broke out. With Moscow’s restricted however essential covert army help, the CCP defeated the Nationalists and drove them to the island of Taiwan in 1949. The CCP’s victory strongly inspired its North Korean comrades and triggered the Korean Warfare in 1950. As a part of its efforts to cease communist aggression worldwide, america despatched its navy to patrol within the Taiwan Strait. The Republic of China subsequently survives in Taiwan.

Taiwan varieties a continuing problem to the CCP’s legitimacy to rule China. Nationalism and national unification shaped the idea of the Nationalists’ legitimacy. The CCP’s basis was social justice based mostly on communism, although it also shared the aim of nationalism and unification. After it took over China, to take care of its legitimacy, the CCP needed to outperform the Nationalists domestically and internationally. Mao Zedong, the PRC’s founder, subsequently, was determined to industrialize China and exhibit China’s power. And one of many show-offs was an Antarctic exploration that was proposed for the first time in 1964.10 But the PRC did not have the required assets following Mao’s packages of industrialization that value over 30 million individuals’s lives in three years, and threw the nation into turmoil. Exploration was thus delayed till 1984, 5 years after Deng began his financial reforms and led China back to the West-led worldwide group.

The PRC’s Antarctic program was based mostly on worldwide collaboration. With many nations’ help, China built up its first Antarctic station in 1984 and obtained beneficial expertise in polar research. China’s Arctic program was a post-Cold Conflict extension of its Antarctic program. The top of the Chilly Conflict basically lowered the Arctic’s value in national protection. On the similar time, Soviet Arctic technologies, including a half-finished ice- strengthened freighter which China converted into an icebreaker, turned accessible to China. The State Oceanic Administration (SOA), which was in control of the PRC’s maritime affairs, seized the chance and began China’s Arctic program in the mid-1990s.11 When it turned clear that the Arctic sea ice was melting, a state of affairs that may convey profound modifications to the geopolitical posture within the northern hemisphere, Beijing found itself, within the mid-2000s, able to have its voice heard in Arctic affairs.

Certainly one of China’s new purpose-built Arctic cargo ships, Tian En, transits the Northern Sea Route on this 20 August 2018 photograph. (Liu Hongxia, Xinhua)

The sudden conclusion of the Cold Conflict turned the problems of Taiwan and South China Sea into essential threats to the PRC. International consideration was not targeted on the confrontation between america and the Soviet Union, and China had quietly turn into an financial power that relied heavily on imports and exports traveling by sea. Taiwan was on monitor toward de jure independence while the South China Sea nations consolidated their control over the atolls and shoals that China claimed as its territory. The two problems with China’s territorial integrity and national unification turned a focus in Beijing. Because of its alliance with the USA, the naval drive of the Nationalists in Taiwan was a strong drive in East Asia. But Taiwan’s naval forces had to concentrate their assets on the defence of Taiwan towards the CCP. Mao ignored the South China Sea till oil deposits have been found in its seabed within the early 1970s. Before Mao took any motion, other South China Sea nations had managed numerous disputed atolls and shoals within the Spratly Islands. The question of easy methods to improve China’s place in the territorial disputes thus turned pressing.

In an effort to dominate the South China Sea and to discourage Taiwan from independence, the PRC developed a maritime-oriented army strategy in 1992.12 The result of the implementation of this strategy has been the development of China’s naval and air superiority within the South China Sea. However, as an alternative of a way of security, a variety of PRC’s army strategists discovered their nation falling right into a security dilemma. Though China’s booming financial system might afford to construct a modern navy, it was dependent on abroad commerce and the delivery by way of Malacca Strait. But China can’t management the Malacca Strait without defeating the U.S. Navy and profitable a serious struggle towards the USA. The more highly effective the Chinese navy grows, the more uneasy the state of affairs in the South China Sea becomes and the less safe the PRC leaders feel. As China’s maritime-oriented army strategy was guiding the nation to nowhere, the prospect of a commercially useful Northern Route turned an choice for China to go around the southern impasse.

China’s Arctic Strategy and Its Potential Impacts on Canada

China’s commitment to Arctic affairs is rooted in China’s financial system. Beneath the high-toned sentences in the white paper outlining China’s Arctic coverage, are the shrewd geostrategic issues and well-developed plans which were in existence for over 15 years. As early as the mid-2000s, Chinese language engineers began designing excessive ice class service provider ships.” In August 2018, at the least two Chinese high ice class service provider ships have been in business operations within the Arctic. China’s shipbuilding business is subsequently prepared for Arctic delivery. In the meantime, the SOA carried out a comprehensive research program on the history, politics, financial system, and society of the Arctic nations.14 The implementation of the program helped PRC governmental businesses and academia achieve a consensus on China’s Arctic technique. Though the consensus has not been explicitly articulated, its principal contents can easily be identified within the publications open to the public. Along with the rules of worldwide collaboration, worldwide regulation and contributions to Arctic research and the well-being of Arctic nations, that are addressed within the white paper, Russia-China partnership and mediation of the difference among Arctic nations are among the many key elements within the consensus.

China and Russia shaped a quasi-alliance after the Chilly Struggle on account of their geostrategic have to counterbalance america and its allies. Their bilateral history, nevertheless, has not been without difficulties, and presently Russia is worried concerning the safety of Siberia and China’s growing affect in Central Asia. The Arctic Route is the perfect strategy to consolidating Russo-China relations without touching these delicate points. Collaboration with Russia is thus essential in China’s Arctic strategy. With Russia’s consent, even help, China might use its financial and financial power to mediate controversies amongst Arctic nations and steadily alter its current standing inside the Arctic Council.

Chinese language participation within the Arctic has several fascinating potential benefits for China. For instance, China might use Canada’s argument that the Northwest Passage is historic inner waters, to argue that the South China Sea can also be historic inner waters of China. This might be a practical use of Canada’s authorized arguments to counter criticism of Chinese actions.

As nicely, along with learning the varied present and potential controversies amongst Arctic nations, Chinese researchers also studied the interior challenges of the Arctic states, especially the deplorable history of indigenous peoples inside the Arctic Circle. Quite a lot of works on Arctic indigenous societies have been revealed. Among the many works is a monograph on Canada. Pan Min, the writer, examined the relations between the aboriginal communities and the provincial and federal governments.15 She discussed the socioeconomic disparities between the Arctic and south Canada. She recommended that the PRC authorities ought to undertake a technique of ‘wait-and- see’ concerning the indigenous points while growing funding in the indigenous areas.

A chart from a Statistics Canada report exhibits over half of Canada’s Inuit population have experienced meals insecurity over a one-year period. The dramatic disparity in meals security between Canada’s northern indigenous peoples and the southerners could also be exploited by overseas actors. (Paula Arriagada, Statistics Canada)

It goes with out saying that Pan’s suggestion was based mostly on the PRC’s pursuits relatively than the well-being of the Canadian indigenous peoples. Within the context of the PRC’s post-Cold Struggle strategic dilemma and the alternatives to be developed out of the melting of the Arctic sea ice, Pan’s suggestion exhibits that the PRC leaders have been looking for the weak and exploitable factors of the Arctic nations. They usually have identified the difficulty of indigenous peoples. It is the similar problem that PRC diplomats in Australia have immediately threatened to make use of if vital.16 Thankfully for Canada, China’s present interests in the Arctic are across the Northern Sea Route quite than the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately for Canada, the PRC has little stake in Arctic Canada. This suggests that the PRC might use indigenous issues in the Arctic to rebuke or embarrass the Canadian federal authorities when it feels sad with Canada’s criticisms or needs to divert public consideration (home or worldwide) away from China. The Arctic indigenous concern is thus leverage for the PRC to restrain the Canadian authorities’s freedom of motion.

China’s challenges to the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea have taken quite a few varieties in need of violent conflict. Here, China’s maritime militia intrude with the American naval research ship USNS Impeccable’s towed-sonar array south of Hainan Island in March 2009. Neither wishing to struggle an precise struggle nor capable of discourage the USA from operating within the South China Sea, China is more and more focused on utilizing Arctic waters for its maritime commerce.


The PRC has dedicated itself to Arctic affairs. The origin of its polar coverage was Chinese nationalism that led to its Antarctic exploration program. And its dedication to the Arctic comes, partially, from China’s maritime security dilemma over the problems of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and pertains to sustaining the CCP’s legitimacy to rule China. As nicely, the PRC’s dedication to the Arctic is meant to consolidate China’s relations with Russia to be able to scale back Russia’s concern over the security of Siberia and China’s growing affect in Central Asia. Canada’s position in China’s geostrategic plan and Arctic technique is marginal however Canada’s peripheral place may make it a simple goal for China to take advantage of. And the difficulty of Arctic indigenous individuals seems to be the difficulty that China might use to mute Canadian government criticism, divert China’s home consideration, or use in change for agreement about points elsewhere. China’s Arctic coverage subsequently might type an indirect and long-term menace to the safety of Canada’s Arctic.

Dr. Sheman X. Lai, a PhD graduate at Queen’s University (2008) and MA graduate of Struggle Research at Royal Army School (RMC) (2002), is an Adjunct Assistant Professor with the Historical past Department, Queen’s College, and Division of Political Science, Royal Army School of Canada.


  1. Zhao Ningning, “China and the Paradigm of the Arctic Governance” (translated title), Socialism Research, No. 2 (2018), pp. 133-140.
  2. “Vice President Mike Pence’s Remarks on the Administration’s Policy Towards China,” Hudson Institute, Washington, DC, 4 October 2018, obtainable at remarks-on-the-administration-s-policy-towards-chinal02018.
  3. See the State Council Info Workplace of the Individuals’s Republic of China, “China’s Arctic Policy,” English model, January 2018, out there at http://eng- paper/2018/01/26/content_281476026660336.htm,
  4. Ibid, Section 1.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Dumitulu Majilu, “Exclusive Economic Zones” (translated by Liu Nanlai), International Regulation Evaluate, No. 6 (1980), pp. 42-64; Mololianyoufu, “On the New Phase of the International Law of the Seas” (translated by Liu Nanlai), International Regulation Evaluation, No. 1 (1979), pp. 60-67; IK. Kolosovsky, “The Signifi- cance of the UNCLOS and the Approaches to Obtaining Worldwide Sup- ports for it” (translated title), International Regulation Evaluation, No. 4 (1990), pp. 51-54.
  7. Hu Lingtai, “Antarctic Exploration and Research” (translated title), in Middle for Scientific and Technological Info of State Oceanic Ad- ministration (ed.), China Ocean Yearbook, 1986 (Beijing: Haiyang Chu- banshe, 1988), p. 457.
  8. Liu Huaging, Liu Huaging’s Memoir Chubanshe, 2004), pp. 539-540,
  9. Chua Chin Leng, “What is the Permanent Court of Arbitration?” China Every day, 14 July 2016 obtainable at ion/2016-07/14/content_26091459,htm.
  10. Xie Zichu, “Zhu Kezhen: The Pioneer of China’s Polar Studies” (translated title), in Wu Chuanjun and Shi Yafeng (eds), A Collection of Reminiscences of China’s Geography of Ninety Years (Beijing: Xueyuan Chubanshe, 1999), p. 29. (translated title) (Beijing: Jiefangjun
  11. Sheng Aimin, “The Preparations for the Arctic Exploration” (translated title), in China NGO Analysis (translated title), No. 7 (1994), pp. 17-18.
  12. Sherman Xiaogang Lai, “China’s Post-Cold War Challenges and the Birth of its Current Military Strategy,” Journal of Army and Strategic Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4 (2016), pp. 182-209.
  13. Zhang Dongjiang, “Analysis of Arctic Marine Shipping and Research on Arctic Ship General Performance” (translated title), MA Dissertation, Harbin Engineering University, March 2012.
  14. Li Zhen-fu, “Analysis of China’s Strategy on Arctic Route” (translated title), China’s Gentle Sciences, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-7; Li Zhen-fu, “China’s Opportunities and Challenges from the Arctic Route” (translated title), Journal of Port and Waterway Engineering, No. 8 (Serial No. 430) (August 2009), pp. 7-15; Li Zhen-fu, “The Dynamics of the Arctic Route in Geo- politics” (translated title), Inside Mongolia Social Sciences, Vol. 32, No. 1 (2011), pp. 13-18.
  15. Pan Min, Researching Arctic Indigenous Individuals (translated title) (Beijing: Shishi Chubanshe, 2012), p. 314.
  16. Clive Hamilton, Silent Invasion: China’s Affect in Australia (Mel- bourne: Hardie Grant Books, 2018), p. 280.

Featured Picture: China’s research icebreaker Xuelong arrives at the roadstead off the Zhongshan station in Antarctica, Dec. 1, 2018. The analysis staff has carried out unloading work through the use of the helicopter. Xuelong carrying a research staff set sail from Shanghai on Nov. 2, beginning the nation’s 35th Antarctic expedition. (Xinhua/Liu Shiping)