Patrik Andersson, Jesper Willaing Zeuthen & Per Kalvig
This article contributes to the academic debate on China’s growing interests in the Arctic and enriches our understanding of the various economic and political factors influencing Chinese investment decisions in the mineral sector. The article studies Chinese interests in two Arctic advanced mineral exploration projects – the Citronen Fjord zinc project in Northern Greenland and the Kvanefjeld (Kuannersuit) Rare Earth Element (REE)-uranium project in Southern Greenland. It analyses China’s different policies for REE and zinc and their different roles in China’s foreign policy strategy – the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which also includes plans for establishing an “Ice Silk Road”. Based on a study of Chinese-language policy documents and academic articles from the mining sector, we argue that Chinese involvement in the two projects is driven by different strategic considerations. Chinese involvement in REE projects overseas is primarily driven by China’s interest in the strategic resource itself, whereas decisions of where to engage in zinc projects are to a higher degree determined by China’s foreign policy priorities. China has a well-developed and clearly defined national strategy for REE, a resource it considers “strategic,” of which the Kvanefjeld project is likely to be part. Zinc, on the other hand, is not a strategic resource to China, but still essential for its industry. Hence, we argue that the Citronen Fjord project is less tied to national resource strategy; instead, it offers China access to the Arctic region and to zinc as an added bonus. By focusing on the mineral sector, the article explores the extent to which mineral interests drive Chinese foreign policy and to what extent other foreign policy interests influence the Chinese mineral sector overseas.