China’s arctic adventures: Prompting concern

By Ipshita Bhattacharya

China has entered the Arctic Council which means a huge economic benefit to the Chinese economy. It will provide rich prospect for fishing supplies, oil and natural gas resources. The rise in the temperature of Arctic as a result of global warming is making the ocean more viable for shipping routes used for commercial purposes. Therefore, northwest and northeast passages will connect Europe to China and hence, will reduce the travel route significantly by 15,000 miles to 8,000 miles helping China in her trading ventures.

China was patiently waiting for the admission into the arctic council for so many years, and now it is seen currently, active on diplomatic, strategic, economic and scientific platforms involving arctic, because Beijing estimated the potential of natural resources reserves of arctic sagely. China’s commercial frenzy economy which is a prompting concern for the world, as it is gradually becoming a force that can measure any depths and heights or reach any extents of the world for oil and economic benefits. China’s accelerating and deliberate rush for Arctic’s energy exploration is raising two significant issues primarily the climatic and environment issues and secondly its expansion theory which is a hybrid of colonialism. China’s imperialist intentions are penetrating deep into the cold regions of the Arctic for oil diplomacy.

Since oil politics has become a driving force in today’s geopolitics, as recently happened in South Sudan, China’s willing concern and interference by sending peacekeeping force to Mali in the vortical vehemence of Sudan shows its crude concern for oil and self-interest as China buys approximately 80% of Sudanese oil, and perhaps was appalled by the political mayhem of South Sudan. It is hard to see China in to such action as it surely doesn’t matches the original ingredients of the opaque foreign policy of China. As China’s past foreign policy components contained no interference theory in the internal politics of the foreign or the host state. This act suggests that this oriental power is being flexible whenever and wherever there is an issue regarding oil is involved. It also amends its policies and take initiatives for the same purpose.

China is already a major importer of oil from Middle East and Africa, however Chinese oil glut is increasing steeply and sternly. Recently Japan has indicated her grave concern over China’s oil and gas exploration and construction in the East China Sea which is close in the water mutually claimed by both the nations. China however is always looking keenly for new found ways to suffice its requirements for oil and energy sources worldwide. China’s eager participation, quest for resources and admission in Arctic Council proposes a future with a political theatre filled with oil conflict in the Arctic.

This revisionist power with furtive behaviour in South China Sea (SCS) and expansion policies in Asia and beyond Asia, in Africa, Latin America and most recent in Arctic, raises concern because of its ambitious and assertive involvement in the resource full bounty continent with a fiery speed. In 2014 Chinese company CNOOC tied up with Iceland companies Eykon Energy and Petoro Iceland on 60%, 15% and 25% share respectively, in an off shore petroleum exploration in the Dreki area. China is also heavily investing on infrastructure in the Arctic, like Polar Research Institute of China, an ice breaker Xue Long is already on its sixth expedition to Arctic, all these endeavours suggests China’s massive interest in the region. Last year there was a Sino-Russian (Rosneft & Gazprom) deal for 30 years on $400 billion gas contract via Siberian pipeline which is said to be still under construction and is self-explanatory of the mutual leverages between Russia and China. Further to this Russia intends to draw in China into the oil exploration projects in Eastern and South Western Siberia, since China seems to be a worthy partner for Russia in the wake of western sanctions on Russia and Arctic could prove to be a win-win situation for both of them. This narrative is however trying to present the rich prospects of China’s acceptance as an observer status in the Arctic Council.

The issues relating to Arctic border disputes have already led to military infrastructure build ups there, by various countries involved in the region, however development of military in the region cannot overrule the clear indications of probable armed conflict in future. An example of growing outreach of Chinese navy was recently observed in Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. The naval vessels included three combat ships, a replenishment ship and an amphibious ship showcasing its power and might in the distant waters. The question is how far China will actuate to get the global strategic advantage for oil and energy, moreover it seems that China is enjoying its status of being great power, and most enthusiastically accepting her roles in the international forums. China’s rise may be regarded as peaceful till now but it is certainly dominant in nature and character as it is also coupling with the increase in military capacity and up gradations of military arsenals with a military expenditure rising by 10% every year. Although, China is exhibiting her interest in Arctic as solely of scientific research, like climatology, glaciology, geology and oceanography etc. But the rich source of oil which is about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30% of undiscovered conventional natural gases according to US Geological Survey (USGS) somehow must be a strategic and economic reason of pursuit for China. The oil exploration of China in Arctic is a major concern as drilling Arctic is environmentally risky and does not necessitates the requirement at the stake of environmental hazards. Ice melting should be seen as a potential threat rather than economic opportunities, otherwise soon the arctic summers will be ice free.

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Ipshita Bhattacharya

Ipshita Bhattacharya is Ph.D Scholar in History & International Relations (interdisciplinary) with special focus on trilateral defence relations between India, US and China.

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