Defining the Chinese Threat in the Arctic

Examining China’s evolving Arctic interests, policies, and strategies, and analyzing their ramifications for the region (and beyond)
Part of the Chinese Foreign Policy Project
By Yun Sun Author

Originally published in the Arctic Institute Center for Circumpolar Security Studies.

The Arctic is emerging as a new domain for the strategic rivalry between the United States and China. As China expands its engagement in the Arctic, the implications of its presence and activities are an increasingly debated topic in the  United States, among the Arctic states, and globally. China has claimed benevolent intentions in peace, development, and improving Arctic governance. However, given the opaqueness of China’s decision-making and capability development, many American policymakers and observers, if not most, remain skeptical or even hostile toward China’s potential  in the Arctic. A solid strategy on China in the Arctic should begin with a well-defined and well-articulated concrete threat perception by Washington. 

The concern about the Chinese threat in the Arctic is a manifestation of the rising strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China in the era of great power competition.  American criticism of China’s Arctic policy reached an unprecedented level in 2019. Both the U.S. Department of Defense and Secretary of State publicly cast doubt on China’s self-proclaimed status as a “near-Arctic state”. Strategic thinkers in the U.S. worry that China’s economic engagement in the region could be a precursor to much more invasive political and strategic ambitions. China’s Arctic infrastructure development has the potential for dual-use facilities, paving the ground to Beijing’s permanent security presence in the region. In their view, the Sino-Russia commercial cooperation in the Arctic is also creating potential opportunities for security collaboration in the context of their strategic alignment vis-à-vis the United States. In addition, many liken China’s intentions in the Arctic to that in the South China Sea, which has resulted in the South China Sea being “fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims”. 

Read the full article on the Artic Institute’s website.

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