China strengthens Arctic cooperation with Iceland

The growing importance of the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic is the reason why Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and eleven Chinese ministers and deputy ministers visited Iceland this week.


The visit, the first ever of a Chinese Premier to the country, was accompanied by major international interest. The Chinese delegation not only included the powerful Wen Jiabao, but also Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi, Minister of Commerce Chen Deming and nine other ministers and deputy ministers.

Both business and geothermal energy was on the meeting agenda. However, it was the increasingly important role of the Arctic, which was the main issue of discussion during visit.

A total of six agreements and declarations were signed during the visit, of which two are directly connected with Arctic developments. A Framework Agreement will strengthen the countries’ bilateral Arctic cooperation, while a  Memorandum of Understanding in the field of Marine and Polar Science and Technology is to help enhance research cooperation, a press release from the Icelandic government reads.

The Chinese Premier’s visit to Iceland follows several years of closer relations between the two countries. Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has himself been several times in China for political talks. As Iceland in 2008 was shook by a serious economic crisis, Iceland looked both towards Russia and China for credits and financial support. President Grímsson has on several occasions confirmed that relations with China picked pace after the financial crisis and has stressed that “the Chinese positions in the cooperation have been constructive, balanced, positive and definitely not aggressive”.

Read also: Does China seek Arctic foothold on Iceland?

The North Atlantic island with a population of 320.000 is situated strategically in the middle of what in the future could become an important new maritime transport route between Europe and Asia. Arctic ice melting and the subsequent improved access to Arctic waters will make the Northern Sea Route open up for commercial shipping and that could turn Iceland into a new regional hub in international shipping.

For China, the relations with Iceland are potentially very important in Arctic affairs.

The visit to Iceland takes place as China steps up its bid for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council. Prime Minister Wen will continue his European tour with a visit to Sweden, the country, which currently chairs the Council, later this week.