Especially aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine War, the Arctic Region has become the focus of great powers because of its energy resources and transit routes. Beijing’s defining itself as a “Near-Arctic State” and considering the region as a complementary element of the Belt-Road Project led to the expansion of China’s presence in the region.
On the other hand, losing the function of the Arctic Council as a result of Moscow’s war against Ukraine and sanctions targeting Russia has been reflected in the region due to growing cooperation built by Russia and China agonist the Western countries.
As a result, the Arctic Region gained significance with the changing geopolitical balance after the Russia-Ukraine War and turned into a new power struggle area.
From this perspective, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), in order to evaluate the China-Russia cooperation in the Arctic Region and the reflections of this cooperation on regional-global dynamics, presents the views of a Professor of Montclair State University in the US, Prof. Elizabeth Wishnick’s opinions.
- As per various reports, China has a deepening strategic partnership with Russia in the Arctic Region. What are the Concerns of Western countries Regarding this Cooperation?
There are two main concerns regarding this cooperation of Russia and China. One is that Russia would provide China with port access in the Arctic that would have dual use as a military base. This is connected to the broader concern about the potential for Sino-Russian military cooperation in the Arctic. Of course, Western countries also have separate concerns about Russian and Chinese activities in the Arctic.
Regarding China, this has to do with the potential environmental impact of possible resource deals on Arctic states as well as the potential political consequences of potential Chinese economic investments. For example, a major Chinese investment in Greenland could affect its position on autonomy and its relationship with Denmark.
There have been concerns about China trying to deepen divisions in Europe and about the dual-use potential of Chinese technologies and scientific stations, all of this against a background of worsened political relations between China and many European states over human rights and the perception of tacit Chinese support for the Russian war on Ukraine.
The February 4, 2022 Sino-Russian agreement led to a major change in European perceptions of a threat from China, as China appeared to agree to be signing onto Russia’s rejection of the post-World II security European norms, such as the inviolability of borders.
- China has declared itself a near-Arctic state, it is also known that Russia’s national interests attach special importance to the arctic region. In this context, is it possible to discuss competition as well as cooperation between the two countries in the region?
Russia was one of the state that was originally opposing China’s observer status in the Arctic Council. When China recognized the sovereignty of Arctic states, Russia became amenable to Chinese observer status.
Russia was also reluctant to encourage Chinese investment in the Arctic until 2013, but even with the imposition of wide-ranging sanctions in 2022, the Russian government continues to seek out alternatives to Chinese investment. Some Russian scholars claim that their government was not very enthusiastic about China’s talk about a “Polar Silk Road” because Moscow wants the Northern Sea Route to be a destination for investment, not just a transit route from Asia to Europe.
- How was this collaboration affected by the Russian-Ukrainian war?
It’s a mixed picture. On the positive side, China benefits from energy discounts and there may be investment opportunities. But on the negative side, sanctions have affected the ability of some Chinese companies to complete previous contracts due to sanctions, which both private and state-owned companies have been respecting for the most part.
Some in Russia and the West see Russia more dependent on China in the Arctic, but I really think the Russian government will do everything possible to avoid this outcome and it does have a few other options, in terms of partnering with India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and, of course, Türkiye.
- What can you comment on the Polar Silk Road project and its impact on the energy markets?
The Polar Silk Road is a Polar trade and transit framework much like the Belt-Road Initiative for Eurasia. Asian and European energy markets draw on different Arctic fields for pipeline gas. Where Russian Arctic energy projects have a real chance to reorient to Asia is liquified natural gas (LNG), but the development of Russian Arctic LNG faces considerable challenges due to current sanctions.
- What is the role of science in China and Russia’s partnership? In the Arctic, what comes first, political interests or scientific commitment?
For China, collaboration with Russia in science is important to justify its “near-Arctic status” as it provides Chinese vessels with area experience. In the west there is considerable concern about the dual use potential of their scientific collaboration.
Prof. Elizabeth Wishnick
Elizabeth Wishnick is Professor of Political Science at Montclair State University, where she is also the Coordinator of the Asian Studies Undergraduate Minor. Since 2002, she has been a research scholar at WEAI. She previously taught undergraduate and graduate courses in international relations, Chinese politics, and Chinese foreign policy at Barnard College, Columbia College, and SIPA. Professor Wishnick’s research focuses on Chinese foreign policy and non-traditional security.