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China Seeks To Capitalize On Global Warming In The Arctic

March 1, 2010

A Stockholm research institute said Monday that China has started exploring how to reap economic and strategic benefits from the ice melting at the Arctic due to global warming.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that Chinese officials have been cautious in expressing interest in the region for fear of causing alarm among the five countries bordering the Arctic.

“The prospect of the Arctic being navigable during summer months, leading to both shorter shipping routes and access to untapped energy resources, has impelled the Chinese government to allocate more resources to Arctic research,” SIPRI researcher Linda Jakobson said.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. are already in disagreement on how to divvy up the Arctic riches.  The regions are expected to have 90 billion untapped barrels of oil, and the countries are arguing over who should control the still frozen shipping routes.

Most of the Europe-Asia trade now travels through the Suez Canal.

According to different predictions, the famed Northwest Passage could become ice-free in the summer months any time between 2010 and 2060, which would cut travel distance by 40 percent.

“To date China has adopted a wait-and-see approach to Arctic developments, wary that active overtures would cause alarm in other countries due to China’s size and status as a rising global power,” Jakobson said.

China is not a member of the Arctic Council, which determines Arctic policies. The country also does not have Arctic coasts, and therefore has no sovereign rights to underwater continental shelves.

“China’s insistence on respect for sovereignty as a guiding principle of international relations deters it from questioning the territorial rights of Arctic states,” according to SIPRI report “China prepares for an ice-free Arctic”.

The country’s research remains largely focused on the environmental challenges of a melting Arctic.

“However, in recent years Chinese officials and researchers have started to also assess the commercial, political and security implications for China of a seasonally ice-free Arctic region,” Jakobson said.

Jakobson pointed out that China has one of the world’s strongest polar scientific research capabilities and already owns the world’s largest non-nuclear icebreaker.

Beijing approved the building of a new high-tech polar expedition research icebreaker last year, which is set to sail in 2013.

“Despite its seemingly weak position, China can be expected to seek a role in determining the political framework and legal foundation for future Arctic activities,” Jakobson said.

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