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Olga Alexeeva is a Member of the Raoul
Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies and Frédéric
Lasserre is a Professor at the Université du Quebec à Montréal.
China and the Arctic
Olga Alexeeva and Frédéric Lasserre
Much attention has been paid to China’s Arctic ambitions as of late, with many commentators warning of a
forthcoming aggressive pursuit of control over Arctic resources and shipping lanes. This article reviews China’s
longstanding scientific, and growing economic and political, interests in the region and concludes that China has far
more to gain by cooperating with Arctic neighbors and buying energy from Arctic EEZ-based projects, than by
pursuing an aggressive and confrontational exploration strategy, which could be counterproductive for China's own
position regarding disputes in the South China Sea. China has been pursuing cooperative and collaborative relations in
the region, and is likely to do so in the future, not least because it is in its strategic and economic interest to do so.
The commercial and strategic implication of climate change and the melting of the sea ice in the
Arctic have drawn attention not only of Arctic states, but also of some other countries that have no
territorial access to the region, such as China and Japan.
Growing Chinese interest in the Arctic
seems to be a rather recent phenomenon that was highlighted by Linda Jakobson in her report for
the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in 2010 (Jakobson, 2010). Since then
there has been a lot of mass-media publications and speculations on that topic, but not that much
academic research, resulting in the construction of an image of a potentially threatening China. China
is often described as being very interested in both Arctic mineral resources and the opening of Arctic
shipping routes, but in this characterization there is a hint of a perceived threat, as commentators are
often stressing that China’s appetite may lead Beijing into considering the Northwest Passage (NWP)
as an international strait, and resources as open up for grabs (Spears, 2009; Lalonde, 2008; Borgerson,
2008: 64).
Thus, the intensified interest of the world community towards the Arctic and towards
China’s growing presence in this region has raised a lot of questions. What does China’s interest in