Deepening Competition in Arctic Region: US-China-Russia

Similar Posts

This post is also available in: Türkçe Русский

Long with the changes seen in world politics, China is beginning to be taken as a rising actor within the global balance of power. The United States of America (US), which seeks to maintain the unipolar world order, is endeavouring to prevent the rise of China. Meanwhile, along with the resurrection of the Cold War atmosphere of the Russian-Ukraine War, it is witnessed that Russia, the traditional enemy of the US, has started a built an alliance with China with her desire for achieving a “multipolar world”. Thus, strategic rapprochement among these states meets the eyes of the world. These developments have led to the Arctic Region being positioned as the centre of the global power struggle as the “competition area” between these three nations.

As part of the global warming effect, the Arctic geography stands out as one of strategic importance due to rapidly melting glaciers and related to this, the occurrence of possibility to access numerous valuable resources. As well as energy reserves, critical minerals, and fisheries, newly accessed shipping routes across the Arctic enable the possibility of creating a new route between Europe and Asia. Hence, several countries’ interests arouse regarding the Arctic region, both economically and politically. Therefore, a power struggle appears in the region as new players and new investments occur. Russia, China, and the US are at the forefront of these actors.

Under a treaty called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), these three signatory countries have the right to exploit resources from the seabed out to 370 kilometres off their shorelines. However, the natural gas reserves of the region are beyond the legal boundaries that were drawn by the UN.[1] Thus, their interests are rather than land; even actors that are relatively far from the North Pole, such as China, which are in the natural resources of the region, pursue an active policy in the region.

The publication of the white paper titled “China’s Arctic Policy” in January 2018 by Beijing, put China’s interest in the region on a concrete basis and China defined itself as a “near-Arctic state”[2] Even though China does not claim any territory in the region, it maintains that it has a right to conduct scientific research, pursue economic resources, and participate in the region’s administration. In this context, the Beijing administration considers the Arctic Region within the scope of the Belt-Road Project and bases its presence in the region on the “Polar Silk Road”.

Despite the relations between China and Russia currently have been perceived as an “alliance”, it is evident that Moscow is uncomfortable with the expansion of China’s presence in the region. From a geopolitical perspective, Russia has the longest Arctic coastline. As such, the North Pole have meaning in national security, legitimacy ve prestige for Kremlin. The role of economic growth and development in Moscow’s Arctic policy is also crucial.

In recent years, Russia, particularly after deteriorating relations with the United States and the West in general due to the Ukraine Crisis, has been strengthening its military presence in the Arctic and expanding its activities. Although Russia and China symbolize the pursuit of multipolarity and fight together against the unipolarity of the US, the interests of Beijing and Moscow regarding the Arctic are divergent. Furthermore, China’s economic, financial, and technological resources far surpass those of Russia, creating a negative situation for Moscow in terms of its interest in Arctic geopolitics.

In this framework, Moscow wants to diversify the cooperation it has developed within the Arctic Region. The sanctions imposed due to Ukraine War led to the Arctic activities of Russia hanging in hence, and there is no other option left for Moscow but to seek partners which can provide high technology to its projects. Kremlin’s ongoing dialogue with Saudi Arabia and India on the said partnership, reveals Russia to enter into rivalry with China in the Arctic. Since India plays a significant role as a global actor, particularly in the Indo-Pacific Region, in balancing the strategic relationship between Russia and China.

As is seen, insecurity which has persisted for many years among the Beijing-Moscow line may worsen due to the uncertainty about Russia’s regional goals relating to the Arctic after the Ukraine War. Accordingly, it would be accurate to claim that China and Russia, together with the USA, constitute a tripartite competition in the Arctic.

Washington, on the other hand, evaluates Arctic politics and security within a scope of defiance to Russia and China. In addition, the goal of the US to prevent the rise of its rivals in the oil industry, China and Russia, and the relations it has developed with the Arctic countries under NATO, are considered the main reasons for the Washington administration’s interest in the Arctic. This is also clearly shown by the new “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” that was published by the White House on 7 October 2022. [3]

While the US and China are considered structural rivals for global hegemony, Russia is the unquestionable military superpower when it comes to the Arctic Region. In this case, it may be expected that the US will pursue more active policies in the region to contain China and Russia. This also is mainly the reason for support for Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.

Consequently, climate change, globalization the return of competition between great powers turns the North Pole into a hot spot of geopolitical competition. Moreover, the activities of the United States, China and Russia in the region are of great importance to demonstrate that the “Arctic exceptionalism” is over.

[1] “Who Owns the Arctic” Live Science,, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

[2] “China’s Arctic Policy”, The State Council of People’s Republic of China,, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

[3] “Biden’s New Arctic Strategy Foresees Competition With Russia, China”, Reuters, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

2020 yılında Hacettepe Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olan Elif Tektaş, aynı yıl Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans programına başlamıştır. Halihazırda yüksek lisans eğitimine devam eden Tektaş, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.