China’s BRI expansion and great power ambition: The Silk Road on the ice connecting the Arctic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

In recent years, China has evidently become a significant actor in the Arctic – a region located around the circumpo-lar north comprising territories of eight states and the Arctic Ocean. In 2013, China’s achievement of observer status at the Arctic Council – the high level inter-governmental forum of these eight circumpolar states – provided the country with legitimacy in its growing engagement with the Arctic region and its actors. A number of interests in the region motivates this engagement, most crucially that the Arctic is a resource rich region full of potential to further boost China’s local economy. The region contains, among other resources, approximately one-fourth of world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources. The increased melting of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean as a result of global warming is gradually opening access to water routes, and the region itself. The Arctic sea routes, in particular the Northern Sea Route (NSR), have already been identified as crucial navigation routes for China to expand its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to the Arctic. The expansion is now widely known as the Silk Road on the Ice or the Polar Silk Road wherein China closely cooperates with Russia and other Arctic states to promote the infrastructural development to operationalise the NSR. China’s investments in a number of projects are making the country an influential actor in the Arctic region. As such, China’s Arctic engagement is at times perceived as an attempt to enhance its ambitions, not only in terms of its economic interests, but also to move a step further towards gaining great power status in world politics. While China firmly commits to respect the sensitive environmental considerations existing in the Arctic and the sovereignty of the Arctic states, it also explicitly highlights its legitimate rights under international law, i.e., freedom of navigation through the Arctic sea routes. In this context, the following article explores the extension of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt to the Arctic vis-á-vis the possible geopolitical dynamics, and whether China’s increasing engagement in the Arctic accelerates its political ambition to expand its great power status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalCambridge journal of Eurasian studies
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2019
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Silk Road
  • Belt and Road Initiative
  • China

Field of science

  • Law

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