By Patrick Lozada
Image credit: @artic.
In a meeting of the Arctic Council on Wednesday, China along with India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore were granted observer status in the organization. This follows years of lobbying on China’s part to be included as an observer, a status that will allow it to sit in on meetings but will not allow it to vote on any policies.
The Arctic Council has become increasingly more and more important as the reality of climate change has begun to expose untouched Arctic resources, change fish migration patterns, and open new sea trading routes. A quick snapshot: 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas are located above the Arctic Circle, and new shipping lanes could almost halve the travel distance between ports in Europe and China. The warmed Arctic will change the global economy, so really it’s no surprise that China – one of its biggest players – wants to join.
And yet, China’s status on the council has been a source of contention with some of the existing members as well as outside groups who think China intends to strip mine the Arctic if they get a non-voting seat. Although China’s claim to be a “near Arctic nation” is pretty ridiculous (see: Russia), they are definitely a stakeholder in the region because of their extensive involvement in the global economy and the effect upon China that a changing Arctic will have. Iceland’s president perhaps said it most succinctly when he argued that “no single transformation will have as much impact on China in the coming decades.”
We contend that it is a good thing that China has finally acceded to the Arctic Council. Although environmental security and international stewardship aren’t likely to be at the top of the country’s agenda, including China will encourage multilateral engagement in Arctic politics, allow for continued scientific cooperation (China has invested heavily in Arctic research), and gives the body more legitimacy. What would the alternative be? Shutting China out of talks on global resources would have only encouraged the Chinese victim narrative and encouraged irresponsible engagement in the region.
Time will tell what the consequences China’s long-term involvement will be, but we can only hope Pandas will join their Polar cousins in mugging for coke commercials in the not too distant future.