For China, Barents Region comes closer

As Arctic Sea ice is melting, China is positioning itself in Arctic shipping.

KIRKENES. Chinese authorities ignore Norway, but are ready to cooperate with the Barents Region.


Speaking at the Kirkenes Conference this week, China’s Ambassador to Norway, Zhao Jun, highlighted his country’s keen interest in Arctic waters, as well as the Barents Region.

“Cooperation between the Barents Region and non-Arctic states will grow as Arctic waterways open”, the diplomat told the audience dominated by regional business representatives, adding that the Barents Sea gradually is turning into an international area both in terms of geography and economy.

The courting of Arctic government and commercial interests comes as China is stepping up its bid for observer status in the Arctic Council, the club of eight Arctic states. In December 2012, China submitted a renewed application to the international body.

As previously reported by BarentsObserver, several Council members, among them both Norway and Sweden, now support China’s bid.

“It is natural for China to participate in discussions on Arctic issues, as a potential user of Arctic waterways”, the diplomat said, adding that his country is a “responsible partner” which should get observer status in the Council.

“Cooperation is the key to dealing with Arctic issues”, Mr Zhao Jun continued. China’s inclusion will give the Council “broader trans-regional perspectives and enhance its prestige”.

Interestingly, the Chinese ambassador also underlined that his country is ready to cooperate with indigenous peoples’ organizations in the region.

While the powerful Asian country does what it can to promote its cooperative approach to the Arctic, it is still not ready to start talking with Norway. Following the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s Peace Award to Liu Xiaobo in 2010, China has frozen all official relations with the Nordic country and shows no sign of a change of position. However, on a regional level, China appears to have a more flexible approach. The visit to Kirkenes is the second of Ambassador Zhao Jun in less than a year to the Arctic border town.

China is stepping up its ambitions in Arctic waters and in August 2012 for the first time sent its icebreaker “Xuelong” across the Northern Sea Route. In 2013, the country intends to enhance its research efforts for the protection of the country’s strategic interests in the Arctic region, a strategy document reads.