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China’s growing Arctic ambitions

As the Global warming is melting the Arctic ice, and opening up new shipping trade routes and real estate, intense resource competition over an estimated $1 trillion untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals has started. Human activities have grown in the Arctic by almost 400 percent in the last decade, the U.S. board estimated, in terms of shipping, mining, energy exploration, fishing and tourism. Considering its geostrategic importance many countries including Russia and US  are planning military presence to protect their interests.


Russia is acting quickly to become dominating Geostrategic and Military power in the Arctic. Russia has been carrying out rapid Arctic militarization by building New airbases, icebreakers, ground forces, missiles and and carrying out military exercises there. Russia’s new military doctrine signed into effect on December 26, 2014, identified Arctic as one of three geopolitical arenas that Moscow has deemed vital to national security.


Russia isn’t alone in its Arctic ambition. The United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland all lay claim to the area and its abundant natural resources.



China is the latest entry to have arctic ambitions. US has intensified its intelligence activities in Arctic, through U.S. spy satellites orbiting overhead and Navy sensors deep in the frigid waters. Most of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have assigned analysts to work full time on the Arctic. The U.S. intelligence focus is chiefly aimed at Russia’s military buildup in the far north under President Vladimir Putin.


Despite being more than 7,000 kilometres away from the Arctic Circle, In January 2018, China released a white paper on “China’s Arctic Policy,” that declared China to be “a near Arctic State” and “an important stakeholder in Arctic affairs.”


China has outlined its ambitions to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming. China said it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages, paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that would form a “Polar Silk Road”.


China had carried out eight scientific expeditions in the Arctic Ocean and built the Arctic Yellow River Station in Ny-Ålesund in the Spitsbergen archipelago. A second heavy icebreaker, Xuelong 2, joined its fleet in December 2017. In the same year, China’s other heavy icebreaker, the Xuelong, transited the Northwest Passage. There are reports that China has recently requested tenders for the construction of a nuclear icebreaker, potentially joining Russia in having elite Arctic capabilities. Although China’s ice-cutters and other capabilities have primarily civilian purposes, they could build the foundation for Chinese military activities in the region under the cloak of supporting non-military objectives.


“China hopes to work with all parties to build a ‘Polar Silk Road’ through developing the Arctic shipping routes,” the paper, issued by the State Council Information Office, said. Among its increasing interests in the region is its major stake in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project which is expected to supply China with four million tonnes of LNG a year, according to the state-run China Daily.


Among its increasing interests in the region is its major stake in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project which is expected to supply China with four million tonnes of LNG a year, according to the state-run China Daily.


A report by the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) expresses concern about the rapid expansion of China’s activities in the Arctic. China, which is geographically far from the North Pole, is now claiming to be a near-Arctic country, to match its “long-term, strategic objective of pursuing economic development and growth in the Arctic,” the ISAB report said.

Economic opportunities in the Arctic are important to China in the short term, the report said, such as “sea and air routes [that] would allow for expanded shipping to markets in Europe and North America.” “In the long term,” the report added, “China could benefit from access to resources including oil, other hydrocarbons, minerals and fisheries, and expanding its tourism and bioprospecting industries to the region.”


China Russia Collaboration

The report notes China’s cooperation with Russia in the development of natural-gas deposits in the Arctic Siberian Yamal Peninsula. ISAB member Sherri Goodman, former deputy undersecretary of defense  said the impact of Sino-Russian cooperation on Arctic regional security has not attracted enough attention from the U.S. government.


Since 2017, Russia and China have been working together on projects in the Arctic to further China’s One Belt One Road initiative, including space cooperation programs.  Both countries seek the Arctic’s shipping routes and resources, which creates the need for greater surveillance of the area.


China has begun work on its second large-scale icebreaker. In addition, two mid-size military icebreakers recently joined the PLA Navy’s North Sea Fleet. Shipyard Jiangnan confirms that it has officially started the construction of the vessel,  and that it is planned to be ready for sailing in 2019. Ship designed by Finnish company Aker Arctic Technology Co, will be 122,5 meter long and 22,3 meter wide. It will have a deadweight of 13,000 tons and will be able to carry supplies for 60 days of uninterrupted operation. The ship design will allow it to break 1,5 meter thick ice both with its front and its rear.


China has previously announced that it intends to build also a nuclear-powered icebreakers. An agreement was signed this year between the National Nuclear Corporation and State Shipbuilding Corporation development of the nuclear-powered ships.


Chinese Space Capabilities in the Arctic

China has the second highest number of satellites in space after the United States. China is working to create frequency jammers and lasers to blind military satellites.  Some Chinese satellites possess electro-optical sensors, synthetic aperture radar, and electronic-intelligence collection technology.  China’s Naval Ocean Surveillance System Satellites provide constant maritime surveillance of the western Pacific and Indian oceans. These platforms could potentially be used for Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles or triangulation of a target’s location as well as to support military operations in the Arctic region.


Since China does not border the Arctic it is planning to use its space capabilities for satellite surveillance and geospatial intelligence collection about new fisheries, hydrocarbons, natural resources and faster trade routes. China recently installed its first unmanned ice station in arctic. The main task is to observe the formation and ablation of the ice. Thë data is being transmitted via satellite,”said Yang Huigen, head of the polar research institute.



China has already announced plans to launch imaging satellites to monitor Arctic shipping routes in 2022. Utilizing synthetic aperture radar, these satellites will be able to see the surface through clouds and during both day and night. China’s Academy of the Sciences and Technology and Sun Yat-sen University developed these satellites.  The satellites will be able to view most of the Arctic every 24 hours and will be able to discern which trade routes are blocked by ice. These satellites will augment the capabilities of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, which Beijing seeks to develop further as a viable alternative to GPS and which already supports PLA operations worldwide.


Chinese Ground Stations Near the Arctic

OSIX assesses that, in order to exert its influence over the Arctic, China must establish ground control stations near the Arctic region. In 1986, China established its first Remote Sensing Satellite Ground Station (RSGS). It currently operates five RSGS stations (named Miyun, Kashi, Sanya, Kunming and Kiruna) that provide full coverage of the Chinese territory. These stations are able to see real time data from “polar-orbiting earth observation satellites, geostationary earth observation satellites, and space science satellites.” Additionally, RSGS might encompass creating a “Virtual Ground Station” that allows users in undisclosed “neighboring countries” to see real-time images. [21] Although China is not part of the Arctic region, it claims to be a “near-Arctic state.” In 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources created the “Arctic Environment Satellite and Numerical Weather Forecasting Project,” which gave rise to the establishment of ground stations in the Arctic to support overhead satellite reconnaissance of the region.[22]


The Chinese Academy of the Sciences operates the RSGS station in Kiruna, Sweden. In January 2019, the Swedish Ministry of Defense’s Research Agency assessed the station may be controlled by the PLA and used for military surveillance. The Polar Research Institute of China operates the China-Iceland Arctic Science Observatory in Iceland. In the 2008 recession, Iceland’s banks collapsed, and China offered to be a new trading partner. In 2010, China and Iceland made a currency swap to help Iceland’s economy. They signed a free trade agreement in 2013 and have since partnered in many businesses, including space observation.


Similarly, China operates the Yellow River Station in Norway to examine impacts of climate change. Beijing has an agreement with Finland to establish a “Joint Research Center for Arctic Space Observations and Data Sharing” as part of a “2019-2023 China-Finland Joint Action Plan.” The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and Global Change and Earth System Science Research Institute of the Beijing Normal University established a satellite ground-control station in 2017. Some Chinese companies are involved in uranium mines and rare-earth minerals in Greenland, making it a potentially important part of the Polar Silk Road. China offered to help build international airports in Greenland to try to gain land in the country, but the plans were stopped due to concerns of Denmark and the United States.



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