Why is the US concerned about China's influence in the Arctic?

Why is the US concerned about China's influence in the Arctic?


A few days ago, the US Department of the Navy released its new Arctic strategy paper – “The Blue Arctic”. Among other things, the strategy draws attention to concerns about Chinese penetration into the Arctic. This, according to the Ministry of the Navy, poses a threat to the national interests of the United States in the Arctic region. And therefore it is necessary to "apply naval power through everyday competition in such a way as to protect vital national interests and preserve regional security, without undermining confidence and without causing conflict."

What scared Washington so much? Let's figure it out.

At the end of December last year, it became known of China's plans to launch a second synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite in 2022 to monitor Arctic shipping routes. The first satellite, called Jingshi-1, was launched in 2019 and is designed to remotely probe the North and South Poles and track ice drifts and the melting of icebergs. During the year of the satellite's operation, it sent over a thousand images of the South Pole to earth.

The new satellite, developed by scientists at Sun Yatsen University in Guangzhou and the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, is designed to take images of the North Pole, and more specifically, areas along the sea routes through the Arctic. It is reported that the data will be used to monitor and predict sea ice movements, climate change and marine disasters, which will help ensure the safety of Arctic shipping routes.

The development of the Arctic by China began in the late 90s. This country has been carrying out expeditions to the North Pole since 1999. Since then, the Chinese side has repeatedly declared the peaceful nature of its Arctic policy and its readiness to cooperate in this work with other countries, including Canada, Iceland, Russia, and so on. In 2012, the construction of the Arctic station "Kunlun" was completed, in 2013 the first Chinese icebreaker, named "Xuelong 2", left the stocks. More precisely, it was the first Chinese icebreaker built in China. "Xuelong 1" was built in Ukraine in 1993, became the world's largest non-nuclear icebreaker and has made 9 Arctic and 22 Antarctic expeditions so far. In 2012, the first Chinese icebreaker sailed along the Northern Sea Route from Qingdao to Iceland.

After the second icebreaker appeared in China, the USA got nervous. The fact is that the Arctic and Antarctica are uncharted lands, supposedly possessing huge undeveloped natural resources. For example, a third of the world's gas reserves are concentrated in the Arctic. And China is a very rapidly developing high-tech country, able to achieve its goals like no other. Let us compare: Russia, which has been exploring Antarctica for almost two hundred years, has 7 polar stations at the South Pole, and China, which began this work only in 1985, has already 4.

Of course, the interests of China and the United States differ, but cooperation is always better than confrontation. Moreover, confrontation with China is a thankless business, and the American side has already felt this more than once.

In 2017, the Commission on Arctic and Antarctic Affairs under the State Oceanic Administration of the People's Republic of China announced the signing of a memorandum with research institutes from six states, the main goal of which is to strengthen international cooperation in the field of polar research. According to the document, China, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Norway, the United States and Russia have agreed to conduct joint research, exchange experience, and participate in joint projects to protect the environment. In 2018, the Chinese side took another step to concretize Arctic cooperation with the Russian Federation. On her initiative, working groups were created and negotiations began on a memorandum on cooperation between the two countries in the development of the Arctic.

Interestingly, a year before that, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an agreement on cooperation in the development of the Arctic and the creation of the Ice Silk Road, designed to become an important area within the Belt and Road Initiative. Of course, Beijing expects to benefit from the new trade route for itself, but like all Chinese projects and initiatives, the «Ice Silk Road» will pay dividends to all countries in the region because it is designed for cooperation.

China is not yet a member of the Arctic Council, but already has observer status. Beijing, like many large countries, seeks to participate in the development of the Arctic region. Such tenacity frightens the Arctic powers and causes nervous tremors. Why? Because it is China that possesses the scientific, technological, financial and resources for the development of the region, as well as an enviable diligence and the ability to solve assigned tasks. However, the United States is developing entire strategies to counter Chinese penetration into the Arctic, ostensibly in the interests of protecting US national security.

The commander of the US Navy in Europe and Africa, Admiral James Foggo, once said: “It is important that Russia and China do not get any initiative anywhere and in anything. They want all promising commercial projects - and the Northern Sea Route is also strategic - not under the control of potential US adversaries. "

And what about the United States itself? Last November, the United States formally withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. From the point of view of the Arctic strategy, this means that Washington does not want to take part in the fight to prevent global warming. As you know, global warming threatens the Arctic with a real disaster. It turns out that the United States, instead of cooperating in saving the region, which, according to American generals and admirals, is of great importance to America's national security, prefer to stand on the sidelines, make insane statements and adopt insane strategies. It is precisely the United States itself that threatens the ecological balance in the Arctic region, completely unjustifiably increasing its military presence there.

As for Beijing's Arctic plans, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to prevent them. Today no one doubts that they will be implemented and will become the next sector of integration and cooperation. The emergence of new Chinese projects will change the geopolitical landscape in the Arctic region, because a country with great economic and financial capabilities is able to have a beneficial effect on regional cooperation plans. In this regard, the "Ice Silk Road" can contribute to the development of ports of the countries participating in the Arctic Council, stimulate their economic potential and open new channels of cooperation with countries reaching the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Seymur Mammadov
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