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13 April


Experts: Competition between Russia, China and USA in the Arctic zone

The main political players in the region must prevent a "new cold war"

Photo: pixabay.com

/NOVOSTIVL/ The United States has always been a reluctant power in the Arctic. It has invested very little into its Arctic resources – with no real ports along Alaska’s Arctic waters, little military presence, and insufficient diplomatic engagement. However, in February, the US government allocated a total of US$675 million in funding for new icebreakers, which military leaders deem vital for competing with Russia and China in the Arctic. This article appeared in the South China Morning Post.

Russia has reopened some of its abandoned military installations from the Soviet era and placed new facilities and airfields in its northern territory. It has also established a string of seaports along its northern coastline. In addition to its military presence, Russia plays a leading role in infrastructure development in the Arctic. Moscow has a five-year plan for Arctic investments in regional infrastructure and natural resource development.

In its Arctic policy white paper, issued in early 2018, China expresses a desire to work with all parties to build a “Polar Silk Road ” by developing the Arctic shipping route. It encourages its enterprises to participate in infrastructure construction for these routes and to conduct commercial trial voyages in accordance with the law, to pave the way for regular commercial operations. Chinese investments in mining and energy industries are taking place in Iceland, Greenland, Russia and beyond. It has taken an active role in intensifying research in both the Arctic and Antarctic and maintains an active polar research programme.

Opportunities for cooperation

Russia and China, though sharing a common desire in many aspects, have a complex relationship balancing competition and cooperation, with lingering mistrust on both sides. Their Arctic relationship will continue to be shaped by pragmatism, with a focus on mutual economic benefits rather than a strategic pact. Russia will remain cautious about Chinese ambitions. On the other hand, China will be wary of any movement by Arctic states to close access to the Arctic Ocean for any non-Arctic state.

Reviewing the US’ existing cooperation with Russia and China may also provide a broader view. For the most part, the US and China enjoy converging interests in the Arctic. China has the potential to be a strong partner if the two nations can address questions that are important to both.

The US and the Russia already cooperate on a wide variety of issues in the Arctic. They have signed a binding agreement to facilitate the conduct of research. And, in May last year, the International Maritime Organisation approved a joint US-Russian proposal for ship-routing measures in the Bering Strait.

Further, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum brings all eight Arctic states closer together to address their shared challenges in search and rescue operations in the region. At the Arctic Council, the US and Russia cooperate on initiatives related to environmental protection and sustainable development.

Cooperative partnerships that promote and enhance these interests will surely be the most appropriate way forward in a region of growing global importance.