With the melting icecaps in the Arctic revealing trillions of dollars worth of untapped natural resources and opening a new trade route, a new frontier of global competition between China, Russia and the U.S. has emerged. Although China is not an Arctic country like Russia and the U.S., it has declared itself as a “Near-Arctic State” in a white paper published last year, titled “China’s Arctic Policy,” which has brought great concern to the U.S.
Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road under the The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, since the 2013 launch of the BRI, an Arctic transportation route that can significantly reduce travel time between destinations is becoming an increasingly real prospect. For this reason the white paper explains the expansion of the BRI to include a new “Polar Silk Road” to “facilitate connectivity and sustainable economic and social development of the Arctic.”
With investment bank Morgan Stanley reporting that the BRI’s investments will reach $1.2–1.3 trillion by 2027, it can be seen why the BRI is a threat to U.S. economic unilaterism, especially with over 60 countries involved to varying degrees in the initiative. It is for this reason that the U.S. Department of Defense launched in June of this year the “Arctic Strategy” white paper to prevent Chinese and Russian exploitation of new energy reserves and to disrupt the new Arctic shipping lane, and of course under the guise of ensuring ‘security and stability.’
Although the U.S. repeatedly claim in their document that they want a “secure and stable” Arctic, their intentions is easily seen through the rest of the paper. With the Chinese white paper only mentioning the U.S. twice, once when listing Arctric countries and the other when explaining an “annual dialogue mechanism” between the U.S. and China “for bilateral dialogues on the law of the sea and polar issues,” China is mentioned 20 times and Russia 26. While the Chinese white paper has called for the “peaceful utilization of the Arctic” and that it “commits itself to maintaining peace and stability,” the U.S. has announced its intentions for hostililty in its white paper by explaining its stategy for “limiting the ability of China and Russia to leverage the region as a corridor for competition that advances their strategic objectives through malign or coercive behavior.”
The U.S. claims it will limit China and Russia so they cannot leverage the region through coercive behaviour, however, it is China’s document that has a sub-section dedicated to its Arctic peace policy that outlines how peace and stability in the Arctic “serves the fundamental interest of all countries including China.” The U.S. document in comparison only mentions peace twice, with one being a footnote to the 2017 National Security Strategy that outlines a curious claim of “preserving peace through strength” and “advancing American influence.” The advancement of “American influence” must not be mistaken for anything else but maintaining unilateralism. Although the U.S. repeatedly calls for a “rule-based order” in the Arctic, this is problematic if we consider their unilateral behavior to prevent the emergence of a balanced multipolar world system.
As the U.S. wants to maintain unilateralism, an objective would be to derail the strategic alliance between Russia and China in the Arctic. It is possibly that it is for this reason the U.S. continually emphasizes that it is “an Arctic nation with sovereign territory and maritime claims in the region,” something China cannot ever do, if it ever had the intentions to, but Russia can. If this was an indirect message by the U.S. to Russia that they have commonality in the Arctic unlike China, it is unlikely to work as they provocatively claim in their document that “Russia and China are challenging the rules-based order in the Arctic” without explaining how.
The U.S. claims that “there is a risk that [China’s] predatory economic behavior globally may be repeated in the Arctic,” directly targeting the BRI. Therefore, the U.S’ motivation against China in the Arctic is to prevent the extension of the BRI into the Arctic. With the BRI bringing a radical change to the international economic system that will bring an end to American economic domination and create a new balanced international system, the U.S. in a desperate attempt to maintain unilateralism has engaged in a wreckless trade war with China and maintains a sanctions regime against Russia.
It is hoped that a destructive trade war will prevent China’s rapid rise and the sanctions will affect Russia’s military rise while maintaining U.S. unilateralism. For this reason the U.S. emphasizes that it “maintains strong defense relationships with six of the seven” Arctic nations through NATO to varrying degrees.
Emphasizing its strong military security apparatus in the Arctic, the U.S. white papers states that despite China’s claim of being a “Near Arctic State,” the U.S. “does not recognize any such status,” and that China also “attempts to alter Arctic governance through economic leverage.” The aggressive rhetoric is in stark contrast to the Chinese white paper that actually emphasizes a ‘rule-based-order’ by making several references to the United Nations Security Council and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The U.S. makes no references to the United Nations in their document, bringing doubt to their claims of wanting a “rule-based-order.”
Therefore, observing China’s and the U.S.’s white papers on the Arctic, their is little dispute that even in a new era of economic and transportational opportunity, China is continuing its path of peaceful growth and prosperity internationally and alongside Russia, in contrast to the U.S.’s continued policy of economic and military intimidation to maintain unilateralism. The Arctic is now the newest front for global competition in the struggle for unilateralism or a multipolar international system, and it appears that once again Russia and China will closely work together to secure their interests in the Arctic are protected from aggressive maneveurs.