Not long ago the Chinese government published a white paper titled “China’s Arctic Policy,” which initiated great discussion at home and abroad.
The Arctic Ocean includes the high seas and the International Seabed Area. According to treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and general international law, states from outside the Arctic region have rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, fishing in the high seas and other relevant sea areas in the Arctic Ocean, as well as rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area. Some countries including the U.K., Japanand Germany have formulated their Arctic policies in recent years.
As one of the continental states which are closest to the Arctic Circle, China also enjoys the abovementioned rights. The white paper details China’s policy goals in the Arctic, namely, to understand, protect, develop and participate in the governance of the Arctic, responding to the concerns of the international community.
China has long been involved in Arctic affairs, with scientific research the focus of its activities in the region. Since 1996, China has carried out eight scientific expeditions in the Arctic Ocean, built a scientific research station. Through these efforts, a large amount of first-hand material on the climate and environment of the Arctic has been collected – thus improving our ability to observe the sea, ice, snow, atmosphere, biology and geology in the region.
The melting of ice and snow in the Arctic region is now creating favorable conditions for the commercial use and development of Arctic shipping routes for all countries. If applicable ports in the Area are connected through Arctic shipping routes in the future, maritime transportation will be significantly shortened. In view of this, all countries are paying close attention to the new opportunity for international trade. China has also proposed to jointly build a “Polar Silk Road” in cooperation with all parties concerned to facilitate connectivity and the sustainable development of the Arctic.
This proposal has drawn world-wide attention. In fact, the Belt and Road Initiative also triggered a chain of speculation when it was first put forward by China. However, with the ongoing implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinahas been fully respecting the laws, cultures, interests and concerns of the countries along the route. Abiding by the principle of extensive consultation, full cooperation, and shared benefits, China has worked to ensure that the final benefits are shared by all the countries along the route. Here it should be noted that all countries along the route, from neighboring Central Asia to distant Europe, can benefit from their economic and trade cooperation with China.
The “Polar Silk Road” is equally important. Reading through the white paper, we can see that China’s policy on the Arctic still focuses on understanding and protecting the Arctic. The white paper specifically emphasizes that the development of scientific research activities is predicated on respecting the sovereignty and laws of the Arctic states. At the same time, the white paper also clearly provides methods towards improving the Arctic environment, protecting the biodiversity of the Arctic and responding to climate change.
It needs all countries to work together to safeguard this vast world of ice and snow. China’s funding, technology, market, knowledge and experience will play a better role in achieving this end.