China Is Pushing Further Into The Worlds Polar Regions

Tanya Taylor
China has invested billions into Polar research and claims it wants to help preserve the ecology and develop solutions for climate change. So, should we be concerned about its polar push?
Antarctica's melting Glaciers as China pushes further into polar regions.
Pristine Antarctic glaciers. Photo: Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

China is pushing further into the world’s polar regions. Some countries view this as a positive scientific collaboration, while others see it as a security threat. In 2018, China announced itself as a “near Arctic state”, indicating a strong desire to join the Arctic Council.

As the ice caps melt, they reveal new shipping routes and allow access to vast natural resources. China believes the poles are global public spaces and seeks to extend its reach in the regions.

China’s Arctic Ambitions

China is 1844 miles (3000km) from the Arctic, yet is trying hard to gain favor with the Arctic States. There are 8 Arctic States making up the Arctic Council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the USA. 

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China has financially invested in several Arctic states, opened scientific research stations in the region and undertaken many Arctic expeditions in the past two decades. 

Their involvement gave China more influence in Arctic affairs – and it became an official observer of the Arctic Council in 2013. 

In 2018, China published their Arctic Policy, outlining its ambitions for the religion. They referred to themselves as a “near Arctic state” and claimed they want to respectfully collaborate with the Arctic Council to preserve and explore the new terrain. 

The document focuses on environmental research to fight climate change and preserve the ecology. But, this seems contradictory as China has been the world leader in carbon emissions since 2006

The policy also outlined China’s economic interests in the region. They want to establish a Polar Silk Road – an economical shipping route between Europe and China. They also feel entitled to a share of the natural resources. 

Arctic Pushback

The Rybachy Peninsular, Murmansk, an Arctic region in Russia. Photo: Ivan Shemereko | Unsplash

Not all Arctic Nations support China’s involvement and some have denied permission for the Chinese to build research facilities. In 2016 Denmark prevented China from buying an old air base in Greenland.  

In 2019 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo openly criticized China’s Arctic Policy. In a speech, he welcomed their collaboration to combat crucial issues such as climate change but had genuine security concerns. 

He believes Chinese civilian reach in the area could become a military one. There are also concerns that scientific research stations could be dual-purpose and serve to aid the military. 

Before the Ukraine war, China depended on alliances with the Arctic States to further its regional presence. However, due to its relationship with Russia, the Arctic Nations have become less welcoming to Chinese collaboration. 

Russia is the largest Arctic State, covering around a fifth of the area. Previously, Russia didn’t advocate China’s push into the Arctic. Since the Ukraine invasion and being alienated from the other Arctic Nations, Russia has a stronger alliance with China and may grant them Arctic access. 

China In Antarctica

The coastline of Antarctica, where China has two scientific research stations. Photo: Matt Palmer | Unsplash

China is also expanding into Antarctica, where they aren’t as politically restrained. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty states countries can’t use the land for military purposes, but it encourages scientific research. 

China has research stations on both sides of the Antarctic coast and another station and base camp on the Antarctic Plateau. They are also constructing a fifth 5,000-square-meter station – each will have satellite capability. 

Many nations have genuine security concerns about the Antarctic research stations. Potentially, they could be dual-purpose facilities, just like the ones in the Arctic.  

China has invested billions into scientific research and could be an influential contributor to the preservation and exploration of the polar regions. However, some nations don’t trust China’s polar push due to its carbon emissions and aggressive foreign policy.


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