As a result of the changes in the global geopolitical area, Northern Pole comes to the fore as a critical playground for vigorous competition between various countries. China’s growing influence in global politics and Russia’s national interests in the region as the country with the longest Arctic coastline; makes the attitudes of the two countries about the region important.
In this context, the crisis and the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), a cooperation or competition between Beijing and Moscow will develop towards the North Pole to seek answers to the question that the international environment, energy and resource management, specialised in Norwegian Research Center, Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) researcher Prof. Dr. Gørild Heggelund, Dr. He presents to your attention the joint views of Erdem Lamazhapov and Iselin Stensdal.
- As various studies and reports reveal, China has a deepening strategic partnership with Russia in the Arctic Region. What could be the attitude of the Western countries to this cooperation between the two countries?
Although the Arctic has been characterized by international cooperation for many years, in recent years the region; The United States (USA) is emerging as an arena for great power competition between China and Russia. In the background of this situation, the USA sees China as its main competitor.
China is a growing naval power both militarily and commercially. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s silent response have also increased security sensitivities in the Arctic. Along with the geopolitical changes in the last year, there are also concerns in the Sino-Russian relations in the Arctic. For example, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, warned in August 2022 that the moves of Russia and China would challenge the alliance. However, despite high-level official statements and speeches, it can be said that Beijing and Moscow have different interests in the Arctic. In addition, the cooperation developed by China and Russia in the Arctic region is largely based on economic reasons, primarily energy.
- As it is known, China defines itself as a “close state” to the North Pole. On the other hand, it is clear that Russia has national interests in the Arctic Region. In this context, is it possible to mention that there is as much competition as cooperation between the two countries?
Polar Silk Road (PSR) is an initiative in connection with the Belt-Road Project initiated by China as a major investment. It was first expressed in the Russia-China joint declaration published in 2017, in which the two countries agreed to develop the Northern Sea Route. In this declaration, it is seen that there is both cooperation and competition between the parties. Because the Chinese authorities are not an add-on/addition to the Russian plans of the PSR vision; It aims to become a Chinese initiative.
The “White Paper” published by China in 2018, known as the Arctic policy document, strongly emphasizes the importance of international cooperation in the development of Arctic shipping routes and does not specifically mention Russia. The White Paper, for example, states clearly that “China’s Arctic hopes to work with all parties to build an “Arctic Silk Road” by improving shipping routes.
In addition, despite the statements made by the leaders and the goals they set, very little of what was planned could be realized. When the academic articles published in the last few years in both countries are examined, it is seen that the parties approach the problems from a much different perspective than can be read in the official document. China’s faith in the economic potential in the region has weakened due to slow progress in concrete projects. Beijing also believes that Moscow is skeptical of its presence in the Chinese Arctic. Because there is a widespread belief that Russia is trying to limit the role that China will assume in the development of the Arctic, due to its national interests and sovereignty concerns for the region.
- How was the cooperation between the two countries affected by the Russia-Ukraine War?
Shortly before Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow and Beijing made a joint statement of their intention to continue and intensify cooperation on Arctic development, including the “development and use of Arctic routes” amid many problems. has published.
The war in Ukraine has negatively affected cooperation in the Arctic, which has almost stalled, in part because it includes economic sanctions against Russia. Because Beijing has concerns about secondary sanctions.
Recently, there has not been much development in cooperation, especially on PSR. As the most concrete example of this, no Chinese ship has applied for permission to navigate the Northern Sea Route in 2022. While this is due to many reasons such as increased costs and war, the most obvious reason is related to the weakening cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Region.
- What would you say about the Polar Silk Road Project and its impact on the energy markets?
There are quite high expectations for resource extraction and shipping potential in the Arctic in Chinese reports and articles. Beijing’s capacity to travel in the Arctic is closely linked to the development of the Arctic Silk Road. An important question arises as to how China will strengthen its maneuvering space in the Arctic through maritime capacity building. However, the most concrete project on the Polar Silk Road is the “Yamal Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)” Project, in which China has a 30% stake. In addition, Beijing owns 14 of the 15 tankers carrying LNG from Yamal.
Although there is an increase in LNG imports from Russia to China in 2022, China still buys most of its LNG from other countries. However, the 4th China-Russia Energy Business Forum was held in Moscow recently, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping sent statements emphasizing their interest and commitment to cooperation on energy issues.
However, based on our research with FNI colleagues, we believe that the Polar Silk Road is a long-term project that can be developed gradually. We base our assumptions here on the fact that Arctic, PSR and maritime interests are echoed in several key political documents.
- What is the role of science in the Sino-Russian partnership? Which do you think comes first in the Arctic, political interests? Or scientific commitment?
As I mentioned before, while the statements made by the leaders draw attention to political relations; academic studies offer more information on key attitudes in the two countries. In this context, it is possible to state that the energy cooperation between the parties in the Arctic has a key role. Bilateral relations have a pragmatic structure in which energy cooperation plays a key role. Therefore, it is possible to say that energy comes first.
She is a Senior Research Fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo. Heggelund, who has been researching China’s environment, energy and climate change policy for thirty years, served as a research expert at the China International Cooperation Council in 2009-2014, when she was the Senior Climate Change Advisor in China for the United Nations Development Programme. She is currently working on China’s potential leadership role in tackling energy and climate change after the Paris Convention.
Lamazhapov, who completed his master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Oslo, has been working as a research assistant at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute since 2020. His main areas of work are the environment, climate and energy security in Northeast Asia and the Arctic, in particular Russia and China.
She is a research assistant at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI). She holds a MA in Chinese Studies from the University of Oslo. Among Stensdal’s main areas of work are China’s environmental and climate policy, China’s energy security policy.