The ever-shrinking ice cap is bringing new challenges to Canadian policy makers; navigability of the North-West passage and access to offshore resources.
Breaking the Ice: China’s Emerging Arctic Strategy
By Hugh L. Stephens, The Diplomat
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just completed his seventh annual foray to the Arctic. The PM’s annual northern tours have traditionally focused on a combination of announcements affecting economic development, environmental protection, and defense readiness. The ever-shrinking ice cap is bringing new challenges to Canadian policy makers, particularly with regard to the navigability of the North-West passage, the fabled historic trade route from Europe to China on which so many hopes have foundered, and over access to offshore resources. The U.S. has long-claimed that the waters of the North-West passage constitute an international strait while Canada contends that they are internal waters.
Now the issue of access to Canada’s Arctic waters will take on an added dimension with China’s newly expressed interest in the north. The most recent manifestation of this new Chinese strategic interest is the current voyage of the world’s largest icebreaker, the Xuelong to Iceland. The Xuelong left Qingdao July 2 for the 17,000 km voyage through the so-called “north-east” route along the coast of Russia. This follows on earlier Chinese interest in Arctic research going back to the 1990s.
Another element of China’s northern strategy is its push to be accepted as a permanent observer at the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body formed in 1996 to coordinate and promote sustainable development in the Arctic composed of the eight nations with territory within……[access full article]