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