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Arctic Yearbook 2012
China and the Arctic
Second, in the Arctic, China does not claim any sovereign right over sea expanses. Unless it begins
openly questioning UNCLOS, which it ratified in 1994, there is no way China can consider claiming
an EEZ nor a continental shelf in the Arctic.
Third, in the South China Sea, Beijing deployed a growing and more and more capable Navy
(Lasserre et Le Roy, 2004), whereas it never considered sending warships to the Arctic – if only
because it does not have such a capacity.
Fourth, questioning the claims of Russia or Canada over Arctic straits would prove
counterproductive for China. In the South China Sea, Beijing claims the Gulf of Tonkin and the
Qiongzhou Strait, between Hainan Island and southern China, as part of Chinese internal waters. For
China to argue the NWP is an international strait, would be tantamount to reckoning the Qiongzhou
Strait also is (Lalonde and Lasserre, 2012).
China seems to be at the forefront of news reports about the Arctic, with most commentators
pointing at some potentially hostile strategies being designed by Beijing. However, the realities of
China's approach towards the Arctic, its seaways and its energy resources does not seem well
understood under this widely held perception that China could conceal an ‘aggressive’ Arctic,
because of reported strategic views regarding shipping and energy production. China certainly is
becoming more proactive and confident in the global sphere, including the Arctic, and would
certainly assert its new role as a great power, an attitude that translates into its bid for observer status
at the Arctic Council.
Yet, 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.
Similarly, should China argue that the NWP is an international strait, such a position would weaken
China’s own assertion that the Qiongzhou Strait, between Hainan and continental China, lies in
China’s internal waters.