China expanding into melting Arctic in major military threat to West
It follows a recent Norwegian report that highlighted efforts by the Chinese military to “strengthen its knowledge of the Arctic”.
Xi Jinping officially included the Arctic sea routes in the Belt and Road Initiative in 2017 and released a full-fledged White Paper on its Arctic Policy in 2018.
According to the 2020 Nordic Report, all of these efforts have also laid the necessary diplomatic groundwork to justify future military activities in the polar region.
While China’s navy has not yet crossed the Arctic circle, melting ice and new sea routes could offer Chinese submarines a path into the North Atlantic.
Concern over China’s strategic aims in the Arctic has been a focus for Donald Trump’s administration.
Last month Admiral James Foggo, commander of US forces in Europe and Africa, said: “The diminishing ice coverage is causing competition to emerge in this new area. The High North is attracting global interest with abundant natural resources and opening maritime routes that have not been navigable before.”
This was followed by a Pentagon warning “that China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence, including by deploying submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attacks”.
Beijing has already expanded the scope of scientific stations in the region which now include satellite receivers capable of tracking missile flights and listening to military-operational communications.
Admiral James Foggo, commander of US forces in Europe and Africa
But it is China’s growing economic influence in the region which poses a more immediate threat.
Partly, this is driven by need. China is unique in being a continental power that still relies on sea routes for the majority of its food and energy imports.
Beijing, which terms itself a “near-Arctic” state despite being more than 800 nautical miles from the North Pole, has already applied to become a fully-fledged member of the Arctic Council, a right only given to territories in the region.
Last night sources within the Council – in which the UK, geographically the closest non-member to the Arctic, has observer status – confirmed that giving a non- territorial nation a permanent seat would be “entirely unprecedented”.
But even if it fails, its heavy economic investments in Iceland, and increasing interests in Greenland and even Russia, could be used to sway Council decisions.
“What China wants is to turn at least one arctic nation into a client state,” said Luke Coffey, of the Heritage Foundation and who last year gave evidence to Congress on China’s strategic threat in the arctic.
Concern over China’s strategic aims in the Arctic has been a focus for Donald Trump’s administration
“Iceland has full voting rights in the council, is a Nato member and, crucially, one of four regional islands – Greenland is another – which form the Arctic chain of defence.”
Already, China’s embassy in Reykjavik contains 500 diplomats and staff, compared with the US embassy which has only 70.
“This underscores the importance that China places on its presence in Iceland “ he said.
In Greenland, China has already presented plans to open opening a research station as well as a satellite receiver station.
“Trump’s offer to buy Greenland was recognition of its strategic importance to the US. Most Americans are taught that, geographically, it’s part of North America,” he added.
“If Greenland gains its independence from Denmark, which is expected, it will mean a relatively undeveloped country in the region ripe for Chinese investment.”
In February Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Reykjavik and vowed: “The US will not neglect Iceland any longer”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
China’s economic ties with Russia are also concerning.
While Vladimir Putin has no interest in allowing China greater Arctic influence, Russia’s weakened economy has led to China financing much of its offshore exploration. This year, some of the first oil shipments from Russia have made their way to China using the Northern Sea Route, which is increasingly ice-free for navigation.
“Russia is already China’s junior partner,” said Coffey.”When it was on the ropes and needed funding to get its Arctic oil and gas exploration online, it went to China and has now become indebted to it – certainly politically. It’s possible that this will lead to allowing China more influence regionally.
“That should worry us all. “
Speaking at a conference by the Henry Jackson Society last week on whether the world’s economies should “decouple” from China, foreign affairs committee member Bob Seely MP said: “China is an authoritarian state at home, increasingly an authoritarian state abroad and sees trade as a weapon.
“Free nations of the world need to form a united front to protect our own industries. We need to welcome trade in non-sensitive areas but defend our independence as sovereign nations too.”