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Defending China's Rights in the Arctic
China will not be absent from trans-regional and global issues related to the Arctic
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2019-05-24  ·   Source: NO. 22 MAY 30, 2019
In his remarks at the opening ceremony of the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chided China for its participation in Arctic affairs, claiming that China is not an Arctic nation and has no claim to the region. In response, Geng Shuang, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said that censure from the U.S. is in conflict with the facts and goes against the historical trend of peaceful cooperation in the Arctic.

Though geographically China does not have any territory in the Arctic region, it is a near-Arctic state.

The Arctic refers to the region north of the Arctic Circle (approximately 66.34 degrees north latitude). Under international law, the Arctic includes the northern land and islands adjacent to the Arctic Ocean. Eight countries have sovereignty over this land of over 8 million square km: Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The Arctic also includes more than 12 million square km of ocean area. A larger part of the Arctic Ocean falls into the categories of high sea and international sea-bed areas.

Simply put, the Arctic is composed of areas subject to the sovereignty of the eight nations and also international parts under the sovereignty of no country.

In recent years, global climate warming has accelerated the thawing of ice in the Arctic. At a time when globalization and regional integration keeps deepening, the Arctic's value in terms of strategy, economy, scientific research, environmental protection, sea routes and various resources, is rising. Issues related to the Arctic are thus no longer limited to national or regional spheres, but involve the interests of countries outside the Arctic region and the entire international community. The survival of all of humanity and its development is tied up with the Arctic too.

The natural conditions and changes in the Arctic have a direct bearing on China's climate system and ecological environment, which affect its agriculture, forestry and sea. Therefore, China has a big stake in the Arctic region.

Moreover, China has long been engaged in Arctic-related affairs. It signed the Spitsbergen Treaty, or the Svalbard Treaty, in 1925. China's exploration in the region is ongoing and cooperative. In 1996, China became a member of the International Arctic Science Committee, further boosting its scientific and research activities. With the research vessel Xue Long as a platform, China has successfully conducted several scientific explorations in the Arctic since 1999.

In 2004, it set up the Arctic research base Yellow River Station in Ny-Alesund on the Spitsbergen archipelago. By relying on platforms like vessels and stations, China has built a multidisciplinary observation system, including the ocean, ice and snow, the atmosphere, biology and geology. In 2005, China hosted the Arctic Science Summit, a high-level conference on Arctic-related issues, and in 2013, the Arctic Council admitted China as a formal observer.

All of these boil down to the fact that China has always been engaged in Arctic affairs. Pompeo's remarks aim to stress the U.S. demand for oil, gas, gold and other resources in the Arctic, but it's ridiculous and groundless for Washington to highlight its interests by negating China's status in the Arctic.

There is no international treaty to govern affairs in the Arctic yet, but international treaties like the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Spitsbergen Treaty fill the gap. Countries outside the Arctic domain do not have sovereignty over land, but according to UNCLOS and relevant international treaties, they have the right to conduct scientific research, open shipping routes, fly, fish, build marine cables and pipelines in the Arctic Ocean's high seas, along with the right to explore and develop resources in the sea bed. Moreover, signatories to the Spitsbergen Treaty are allowed to enter designated Arctic zones and enjoy equal right to conduct commercial and production activities like hunting, fishing and mining.

China has always pursued an open, cooperative and win-win principle in the Arctic region. Its activities in the Arctic have expanded beyond scientific research to global governance, regional cooperation and bilateral and multilateral mechanisms, covering environmental protection, climate change, economic development and cultural communication. China's Belt and Road Initiative also includes the Polar Silk Road, which aims at promoting connectivity and communication in the Arctic region as well as social and economic sustainable development.

China will not interfere in affairs that are exclusively Arctic nations', but it will also not be absent from trans-regional and global issues related to the Arctic. It's always ready to play a constructive role, according to Geng.

The proper way to conduct Arctic affairs is for the international community to jointly protect, know, make use of and manage the Arctic so as to consolidate its peaceful, stable and sustainable development.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to lanxinzhen@bjreview.com

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