The Polar Silk Road and China's role in Arctic governance

Heljar Havnes

Article ID: 1166
Vol 4, Issue 1, 2020

VIEWS - 2023 (Abstract) 1070 (PDF)


The People's Republic of China (PRC) wants to become a key regional actor in the Arctic. PRC's underlying priority in the region is gaining access to commercial opportunities from trade and natural resources. To this end, PRC is building its domestic capacities for research and commercial development in the Arctic, increasing its involvement in multilateral forums on Arctic governance and deepening ties to Arctic nations, especially Russia.

Attitudes towards PRC among Arctic nations are diverging, but Beijing generally faces high levels of skepticism and opposition to its Arctic involvement, explicitly grounded in perceptions of PRC as a state undermining the rules-based international order and potential military build-up in the high north.

The analytical framework in this article builds on an outline authored by Exner-Pirot in 2012 (Exner-Pirot, 2012) to detail the current schools of thought within Arctic governance, and builds on it by including more recent developments in Arctic governance, incorporating the updated Arctic policies of most Arctic countries and connecting it to PRC.

This article contends that Beijing wants to change the status quo of Arctic governance and shift it towards a more accommodating approach to non-Arctic states. This article finds, based on the stated Arctic strategies of the eight Arctic states and PRC, that there are different views on Arctic governance where Arctic countries for the most part indicate an openness to a Chinese entry into the Arctic, albeit in diverging ways. This creates a complex governance scenario for PRC to navigate as it seeks to become a key Arctic player


Arctic; governance; geopolitics; trade; economic development; Belt and Road Initiative; Polar Silk Road

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