[Marxism] Latest Arena for China’s Growing Global Ambitions: The Arctic

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 24 10:26:01 MDT 2019

(The Ecological Civilization? Give me a fucking break.)

NY Times, May 24, 2019
Latest Arena for China’s Growing Global Ambitions: The Arctic
By Somini Sengupta and Steven Lee Myers

ROVANIEMI, Finland — The Arctic is thawing, and China is seizing the 
chance to expand its influence in the north.

For China, the retreating ice potentially offers two big prizes: new 
sources of energy and a faster shipping route across the top of the 
world. To that end, the country is cultivating deeper ties with Russia.

More than 3,000 miles from home, Chinese crews have been drilling for 
gas beneath the frigid waters of the Kara Sea off Russia’s northern 
coast. Every summer for the last five years, Chinese cargo ships have 
maneuvered through the ice packs off Russia’s shores — a new passage 
that officials in Beijing like to call the Polar Silk Road. And in 
Shanghai, Chinese shipbuilders recently launched the country’s second 
icebreaker, the Snow Dragon 2.

China’s ambitions in the Far North, said Aleksi Harkonen, Finland’s 
ambassador for Arctic affairs, mirror its ambitions everywhere else. 
“It’s after global influence,” he said, “including in the Arctic.”

The China-Russia partnership advances both countries’ agendas in the 
region, at least for now. It also comes against a background of rising 
hostilities between China and the United States over issues like trade, 
territorial claims and allegations of espionage.

That tension is spilling over into the Arctic.

In April, the Pentagon, in its annual report to Congress on China’s 
military power, included for the first time a section about the Arctic 
and warned of the risks of a growing Chinese presence in the region, 
including the possible deployment of nuclear submarines in the future.

And this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a meeting of foreign 
ministers here in Rovaniemi, just a few miles south of the Arctic 
Circle, to assail China for what he called its “aggressive behavior” in 
the region and pointed to Beijing’s actions in other parts of the world.

His comments earned the diplomatic equivalent of an eye roll from many 
of the delegates in the room, and analysts who follow Chinese activities 
in the Arctic said Mr. Pompeo overstated the nature of Chinese 
activities in the north. China has no military presence in the Arctic, 
nor any territorial claims. Its activities are commercial and 
scientific, for now.

But Beijing has much to gain, strategically, in a warming Arctic, and it 
is focused on the long game. Wealthy and ambitious, it can afford to be.

China is trying to pour money into nearly every Arctic country. It has 
invested billions into extracting energy from beneath the permafrost on 
the Yamal Peninsula in northern Russia. It is drilling for gas in 
Russian waters alongside the Russian company Gazprom. It is prospecting 
for minerals in Greenland. And its telecommunications giant is eager to 
partner with a Finnish company that wants to lay a huge new undersea 
internet cable to connect Northern Europe with Asia.

The approach is not entirely new. China struck a free trade deal with 
Iceland six years ago, giving tiny Iceland a giant market for one of its 
main exports: fish. A Chinese company proposed to partner with Greenland 
in rebuilding airports, prompting Denmark to step in and underwrite the 
project instead. Another Chinese company proposed to build a port for 
Sweden, but backed out amid fraying diplomatic relations between the two 

“Arctic countries can’t say no to investments. That’s clear,” said Mr. 
Harkonen, the Finnish diplomat. “We want to be sure we know what China 
is after.”

In addition, Chinese ships are sailing the Northern Sea Route. The 
state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company has sent its cargo vessels 
across the Arctic multiple times over the last five years, and is 
planning more voyages this summer. A company official told a recent 
Arctic affairs meeting in Shanghai that the northern route cut 10 days 
off a trip from Asia to Europe compared with routes through the Indian 
Ocean and the Suez Canal.

Though the Suez Canal is still a very tricky passage to navigate, 
climate change is opening up that shipping lane for longer stretches of 
the year. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, 
with the average extent of Arctic sea ice reaching a new low this April, 
according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, China is partnering with the 
leading expansionist power in the region: Russia, which sees the Arctic 
as key to its future wealth and power.

It is an increasingly vital relationship for both countries. Russia 
needs Chinese investment to extract the natural resources under the 
permafrost and monetize its long Arctic coast, especially after the 
United States imposed sanctions over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

And so, Russia’s onetime wariness of competition in the Arctic has given 
way to a new openness with China.

“Though Russia and China would be natural competitors for Arctic 
resources and influence, they have started cooperation knowing that only 
together they can outcompete the West,” said Agnia Grigas, an energy 
expert in Washington and author of a recent book on natural gas and 
geopolitics. “China’s need for energy sources and Russia’s economic 
dependence on fossil fuel exports depends on this.”

President Vladimir Putin has met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi 
Jinping, more than any other foreign leader. Mr. Putin is personally 
cultivating investments from Chinese companies in energy and transport 
infrastructure across his country’s vast Arctic expanse.

In April, Mr. Putin appeared alongside Mr. Xi in Beijing to propose 
linking the thawing Northern Sea Route in Russian waters with China’s 
huge infrastructure drive, known as the Belt and Road. It could create, 
Mr. Putin said, “a competitive, global route” linking much of Asia to 

China has provided crucial financial backing to the huge natural gas 
project on the Yamal Peninsula. In turn, China has secured access to 
what it desperately needs: energy for its hungry domestic market.

The first liquid natural gas shipment went to China last summer via the 
Northern Sea Route. Chinese companies have a 30 percent stake in the 
Yamal gas project.

There’s more cooperation in the works. China and Russia recently 
announced that they would set up a joint research center that would 
study, among other things, changes in sea ice conditions along the 
Northern Sea Route. And the Poly Group, a Chinese state-owned 
corporation, proposed in 2017 to build a new deepwater port in 
Arkhangelsk, on Russia’s Arctic coast.

But the relationship is complicated.

China is building a second icebreaker able to cruise polar waters. 
Russia, which essentially rents out its much larger fleet of icebreakers 
to guide foreign ships through the Northern Sea Route, is not crazy 
about the competition, according to a Pentagon analysis published this 
year as part of its annual report to Congress.

Russia has strongly opposed the idea that any foreign icebreakers could 
ply that route, which Russia today dominates.

Not least, the Russian military is flexing its muscle in the region, 
reviving Cold War-era military bases along its northern coast and 
modernizing its nuclear submarines.

China has said it wants to build a deepwater navy to protect its 
expanding interests around the world. That means, where Chinese 
strategic investments are made, the Chinese Navy is likely to follow.

But China, playing the long game, might have time on its side. If the 
retreat of sea ice continues, much larger portions of the Arctic would 
become navigable, making it harder for Russia to rule the waters of the 
Far North.

Heather A. Conley, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and 
International Studies in Washington and an author of a report on China’s 
Arctic ambitions, said the United States had ignored the Arctic for too 
long. Washington, she argued, should expand its presence in the region, 
and it should work with international forums that bring together 
governments in the region.

Otherwise, she warned this month in testimony on Capitol Hill, “U.S. 
access to and influence in the Arctic region will diminish and our 
allies and partners in the region will increasingly accommodate Russia’s 
and China’s preferred policy outcomes.”

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