Arctic Yearbook 2012
Alexeeva and Lasserre
particular with Iceland and Denmark. In April 2012,
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao toured Sweden and
Iceland in a bid for his country’s permanent observer status (BarentsObserver, 2012), after Denmark
pledged it would support China’s position (Reuters, 2011).
China is investing in joint energy,
minerals exploitation and Arctic navigation projects with these countries and is stimulating the
development of bilateral trade, taking advantage of Iceland’s bankrupt finances.
China is reportedly
interested in the Icelandic government’s project to develop a transarctic shipping route (Icelandic
Government, 2007), as well as mining in Greenland (International Business Times, 2012). London
Mining aims to produce 15 million tons per year of high-grade iron ore pellets by 2015 at its Isua
project, with investments from Sinosteel and China Communications Construction Corporation.
Greenland Minerals and Energy claims the Kvanefjeld deposit could produce 20% of the global rare
earth supply and large amounts of uranium by 2016. Kvanefjeld’s potential to influence global prices
would make it a project of strategic interest to Chinese companies like Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel
Rare Earth, already the world’s largest rare earth metals producer (Erickson and Collins, 2012).
growing economic presence in Iceland and Denmark has attracted rather extensive media
attention, for instance when Huang Nubo, a wealthy Chinese businessman, revealed his plan to buy a
piece of land in Iceland for investment purposes in November 2011.
At the same time, China’s
cooperation activities with major players in the Arctic – Canada, USA and Russia, are still of rather
limited scale, although cooperation with Russia in the energy sector is developing.
A parallel is sometimes traced between China’s position in the Arctic and in the South China Sea.
This comparison is misplaced for several reasons.
First, in the South China Sea, Beijing claims sovereignty over vast maritime expanses on the ground
that they are historic waters, although it never specified what the nature of these waters would be:
internal or territorial waters? EEZ? The Chinese
1992 Law on the Territorial Sea did not make
China’s claim clearer. However, China’s sovereignty is, according to Beijing, rooted in history in the
South China Sea (Lasserre, 1996 and 2005), whereas China only pleads that the Arctic Ocean is the
“inherited wealth of mankind” (Wright, 2011b), which can be argued if the sea zone China refers to
is the sea beyond the EEZ and extended continental shelves (see UNCLOS art. 136 about the
“Area”, called the “common heritage of mankind”). China knows very well it cannot argue it has a
long tradition of using the Arctic.