Chinese Arctic Policy: 12 Month Outlook

Gao Feng - China’s Arctic Ambassador
(Img; Gao Feng – China’s Arctic Ambassador; via Flickr – Creative Commons License)


Whilst having little basis for a sovereign claim to the Arctic Circle, China views the region as a significant opportunity. As such, Chinese Arctic policy affirms the country as a ‘near-Arctic’ state. China will attempt to bolster its legitimacy in the area over the next 12 months.

However, China is forced to balance its own interests with appeasing Arctic States and showing commitment to climate and scientific initiatives. This is to ensure continued dialogue with these States to further Chinese Arctic policy objectives.

Key Judgement 1  

China will almost certainly continue to pursue economic ventures within the Arctic Circle in the next 12 months.

  • Changes in the Arctic landscape due to climate change open new trade routes across the globe. Similarly, melting of polar ice caps releases previously inaccessible natural resources, including crude oil and gas.

  • As part of its Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese Arctic policy aims to develop an Arctic Route to grow its economy and increase trade with Europe. This will provide a faster alternative – up to 23% shorter – to existing trade routes which will accelerate economic development.

  • A new trade route through the Arctic Circle is important to China as it will allow vessels to avoid the Strait of Malacca and pirate-invested waters, potentially offering a more secure passage. China has already signed multiple multinational trade agreements within the Arctic Region, most due to begin within the next five years.

  • In March 2021, China released its 2021-2025 five-year plan. In the report, China affirms that it will proceed with the construction of its ‘Polar Silk Road’ within the next five years.
Chinese Arctic policy

Key Judgement 2 

Chinese Arctic policy is likely to continue its strategy of using soft diplomacy in the next 12 months, to develop Chinese economic and political interests within the Arctic Circle.

  • China has been showing increasing geopolitical interest in the Arctic Circle since 2013. In this year, China gained the right to be active in all Arctic Council meetings. Since 2013, China became a permanent ‘observer’ state within the Arctic Council.

  • In 2014, Chinese premier Xi Jinping expressed a desire for China to become ‘a great polar power’.

  • In 2018, China published its Arctic Strategy White Paper. Within the policy, China affirms itself as a ‘near-Arctic’ state.

  • China’s ongoing commitment to the international community to minimize environmental damage can also be seen through the Kyoto Protocol and Chinese attendance to the Paris Climate Summit in 2015.

  • China has undertaken multiple diplomacy initiatives, such as the China-Russia Arctic Forum, and the establishment of the China-Nordic Arctic Research Centre, to develop relations with Arctic States.

Key Judgement 3 

China is highly likely to increase scientific research and monitoring within the Arctic Circle in the next 12 months.

  • China has increased its scientific research within the Arctic significantly since 2014. The country has hosted numerous research excursions.

  • Multiple national intelligence organizations, such as Danish and US Intelligence authorities, warn that that this may support military presence within the Arctic. However, other analysis suggests China’s scientific research is to further Chinese understanding of weather forecasting and publicly stated strategic aims including shipping and natural resource harvesting.

  • Chinese Arctic policy has motivations for increased Chinese civilian research that cannot be substantiated with publicly available information. However, this monitoring is likely to increase over the next 12 months, and indeed, throughout China’s ‘5 year’ Arctic plan.
Chinese Arctic policy
(Img; China’s Xue Long research vessel; via Defense News)

Intelligence cut-off date: 13th of December, 2021

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