International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

Arctic studies in the People’s Republic of China: objectives and trends.

A.N. Chistyakova

Siberian institute of international relations and regional studies, Novosibirsk.



Historically until the beginning of the 21st century the Arctic was outside the sphere of strategic interests of China. The Arctic studies focused mostly on science research including climate studies, bio-resources, etc. However in the beginning of the new century the Arctic became an important globalization factor and China expanded its social studies scope to cover the affairs of the Arctic. In fact, currently there are two trends in the Arctic studies: analysis of political strategy of the Arctic states and the study of the Arctic governance mechanisms [Чжао Лун, 2014. P. 221].

Already in 2013 China has received an official status of the Arctic Council observer state. In Chinese media the China's role is described in terms of: an "Arctic development member" and the "Arctic nation".  However the meaning of the term "Arctic" itself is still debated in China. Moreover, China adheres to an internationalization principle insisting that the Arctic belongs not only to the "Arctic nations" but to all countries of the world.

The China's interest in the Arctic became stronger after the declaration of the “One Belt and One Road" concept, which included the Chinese initiative of joining two projects of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road". The ice melting opens both the commercial and the strategic opportunities. Another reason for China's growing attention to the Arctic transport routes is a belief that they could be a most economic solution for shipping the Chinese goods to Europe. The estimated annual saving from the redirection of trade flows to the Northern Sea Route may amount to USD 60–120 billion [Азиатские игроки..., 2016. P. 19].

Already beginning from 2009 one could see a shift of emphasis in the Chinese academic publications from the study of the environmental and climate problems to the assessment of commercial, political and military consequences of the Arctic development and the influence of these processes on China. In 2010 China has started a program of the Arctic development indexes analysis and the role of China in that region, and in the following years - an Arctic geopolitics program (2011-2015), and the study of political, economic and legal aspects of Arctic navigation program (2012-2015). China publishes annual reports: "Annual Arctic Development Report", "Research Expeditions Reports", etc.

The structure to be responsible for the Arctic studies is still in the making: most projects are financed by the State Oceanic Administration of China (SOAC) and the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration (CAAA), the Academy of Science, Social Science Academy, as well as the  Shanghai International Studies Institute. Important contribution to the studies is made by the universities [Сюй, 2016. P. 58].

China invests annually about USD 60 mln. in the polar studies, which is higher than the respective investments made by the USA. The first Chinese polar expedition was organized in 1999. In 2004 China set up a "Huánghé Zhàn" (Yellow River) polar station on Spitsbergen for the study of climate change in the Arctic and its effect on the ecosystem of China  [Митяк, 2016. P. 190].

In 2017 there were 7 successful polar marine expeditions, including one to the North Pole in 2010. Marine studies embraced the hydrometeorology, chemistry, biology and ecology, geology, geophysiscs, sea ice dynamics, thermodynamics, etc. Over 80 observation points, as well as 30 reserve and permanent observation stations have been established in the waters of the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, the Chukchi Sea, the Chukchi plateau, the Mendeleev Ridge (for the first time), the Canada basin, and in the high latitude zones of the Arctic Ocean. In the course of 2016 expedition a research ship performed a 3D seismic survey in the north of the Barents Sea over the Polar circle at the geographic latitude over 75 degrees. That was the first Chinese 3D seismic exercise in the polar latitudes and the extreme water temperatures. At present only a limited number of geophysical companies in the world have capabilities for operating in this marine area [Китайское геофизическое судно...].

Thus China builds up its diplomatic and research activity wishing to get access to the resources of the Arctic including the rich fishing territories in the Arctic Ocean, the rare earth metals deposits in Greenland, and the hydrocarbon fields in Russia, as well as the safe sea ways. Polar research expeditions are an important part of the 13th five year plan (2016 - 2020).


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