Arctic Issues and China

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Arctic Issues and China's Stance

The Arctic issue continues to heat up over the past years, causing more attention from Arctic countries and concerns from non-Arctic countries. This paper intends to provide some perspectives on the value of the Arctic region, related international laws and cooperation mechanisms, Arctic countries polar strategy and Chinas stance on the Arctic.IThe Arctic has abundant resources and important values in scientific research, transportation and military affairs. The Arctic countries attach increasing importance to the Arctic development.1. The Arctic is rich in energy, mineral and biological resources.In 2009, United States Geological Survey estimated that potential undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves in the Arctic accounted for 13% and 30% of respective world potential reserves, with 80% of them located offshore. According to statistics, current oil and gas production in the Arctic accounts for 10% and 25% respectively of the global output. The Arctic minerals include gold, copper, iron, lead, platinum, nickel, zinc, diamonds, etc. The coal reserve in the Arctic accounts for 9% of the world total. The Arctic region has abundant cod fish, snappers, salmons and Arctic shrimps, making the region one of the major biological protein bank in the world. The climate change has caused the fish to move northward from traditional fishing grounds in Alaska and the North Sea, and the Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea and other waters in the region will become new and major fishing grounds.2. The scientific research in the Arctic is of importance to the understanding of the Earth.The Arctic shows the fastest response to the global climate change. The climate warming over the past 30 years has shrunk one fourth of the Arctic sea ice in summer time, and reduced the winter ice caps and permanent ice caps by half. Changes in Arctic atmosphere, oceans, land, ecology and society exert important impacts on the climate as well as the economic and social development in the Northern hemisphere and in the world. The ice-melting in Arctic will raise the sea level, and the shrinking sea ice will reduce the refraction of the sun, and the thinner ice cap will speed up the release of methane and other greenhouse gases. All this will further accelerate the global climate change. Therefore, countries in the world, especially in the northern hemisphere, pay great attention to the Arctic scientific research work.

3. The accelerated melting of the Arctic ice advances the possibility of commercial use of three major sea routes in Arctic.At present, there are three passages: the Northwest Passage which connects the Atlantic and the Pacific by crossing the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Northern Sea Route which connects the Atlantic and the Pacific vie the Russian waters in the Arctic, and the Arctic Bridge which links Canadas Cape Churchill to Russias Murmansk. The first two of the three routes are navigable in summer time, and the section from Northern Europe to Northwest Russia is navigable throughout the year.With the continued warming of the global climate, it is estimated that the Northern Sea Route will be navigable throughout the year in 50 years time. By that time the voyage from Northeast Asia to Europe or to the east coast of America via the Arctic routes will be 40% shorter than that via the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal, and the transportation costs will be reduced by 20-30%. In 2012, there were 45 transits through the Northern Sea Route, compared to four transits in 2010. DNV, the Norwegian classification institution, has estimated that there will be 430 transits through this route in 2030. This will have a significant impact on global shipping and trade. However, some experts believe that since the climate change is uncertain, the use of the routes is difficult to predict and maybe not so fast to be navigable.4. The Arctic region also has important military and strategic value.The Arctic is situated in a strategic location linking Asia, Europe and North America. Military experts believe that to dominate the Arctic is to control the commanding point in the world military affairs. During World War II, some channels in the Arctic waters were important strategic routes used by the Allies against Germany, and a great portion of Allies assistance was shipped through the Arctic waters to the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Arctic became the forefront of the US-Soviet confrontation. It was the preferred route for both American and Soviet fighters and their cruise missiles to attach each other and the best nuclear submarine bases. With the end of the Cold War, the military tension in the Arctic relaxed. At present, the United States deploys the first anti-missiles defense system in Alaska and establishes its space defense fortress in the Arctic. Russia deploys most of its advanced strategic nuclear submarines in the Arctic to maintain its nuclear deterrence.The global warming has resulted in major changes in the Arctic natural conditions, and the Arctic countries have begun to pay attention to the development of the Arctic. Regarding the Arctic as the new Middle East in energy resource, the new lifeline in global economy and the new commanding point in world military affairs, they have increased inputs in scientific research and political, economic and military activities, and make efforts to dominate the future Arctic affairs.

IIThere is a basic international legal regime for the Arctic region. However, the coastal states in the Arctic have quite a few disputes concerning attribution of some Arctic waters.1. There is no integrated system of international law for the Arctic, however, a basic legal framework is provided by international laws including a series of conventions for dealing with Arctic issues.(1) Documents of regional international laws and regional cooperation system, such as the Protection of Polar Bears Agreement concluded by five Arctic countries, the non-legal binding Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy adopted by the Environment Council of Ministers of the Arctic, and the Arctic Council the regional sustainable development mechanism.(2) International environmental convention suitable to the Arctic. Since the Arctic region is mostly affected by climate change, reduced ozone layer and persistent organic pollutants (POPS) and other global environmental problems, the Arctic countries have played an important role in the making of the most of the international environmental conventions.(3) The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international legal documents by the International Maritime Organization, including directions for vessels sailing in polar icy waters adopted especially for Arctic navigation conditions. The UNCLOS relates to all aspects of maritime delimitation, marine environmental protection, navigation and marine scientific research, and provides the basic rights and obligations of coastal states and other countries. In 2008, foreign ministers from five Arctic Ocean countries published the Ilulissat Declaration, confirming the basic legal status of the Law of the Sea in the Arctic.(4) The Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen. The Treaty, while recognizing the full and absolute sovereignty of Norway over all the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, stipulates the principle of equality of citizens of any of the signatory countries and the principle of peaceful use of the Islands, thus making the Treaty a unique Arctic legal regime.In addition, the UNCLOS and the Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen constitute important legal basis for non-Arctic countries in their participation of Arctic activities.2. Although the UNCLOS, the Treaty concerning the Archi-pelago of Spitsbergen and others have established the basic international legal framework for the Arctic, there are still some disputes which make the legal status of some Arctic waters uncertain.(1) Disputes over attribution of some Arctic waters. Part of the adjacent maritime boundaries among Arctic countries has not been delineated, and there are also serious differences over the continental shelf attribution of the Arctic Ocean. (a) Russia and the United States concluded in 1990 the Schevardnadze-Baker Treaty over the Bering Sea, by which two-thirds of the Bering Strait and the Bering Sea belong to the United States. However the Russian Parliament believes the treaty would affect resource allocation in the Baring Sea so that it has not ratified the treaty. (b) The United States and Canada have not delineated their maritime boundaries over the Beaufort Sea, with the controversial area of 21,000 square kilometers. (c) In order to expand jurisdictional waters, the Arctic coastal states use straight baselines to determine territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. The United States and European countries have made objections to straight baselines practice of Russia, Canada and Denmark.Norway and Russia had long-standing differences over attribution of the Barents Sea waters, with the disputed sea area of 175,000 square kilometers. The negotiations between the two sides lasted for 40 years. In 2010, the two countries reached an agreement on the delimitation of the Barents Sea, agreeing to divide the disputed areas into two roughly equal parts, with the west part belonging to Norway while the east part belonging to Russia. On this basis, the two sides agreed to make arrangements on fishery cooperation in the related waters and cross-border oil and gas development. This was a positive development.(2) Disputes over outer continental shelf. Russia, Canada and Denmark consider the Lomonosov Ridge under the Arctic Ocean extension of their mainland, and claim the sovereign rights over the 200 nautical miles outer continental shelf. Canada has claimed its sovereignty over parts of the Arctic waters since the 1950s. In 2001, Russia handed in its continental shelf application to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), and claimed that nearly half of the Arctic seabed including the North Pole to be Russias continental shelf, covering an area of 4.12 million square km and accounting for nearly half of the area outside of 200 nautical miles. The CLCS returned the application back to Russia for lack of evidence. Russia is expected to continue its application. The United States and Canada conducted joint geological surveys in the Arctic Ocean. As a result, the US claims that its outer continental shelf in the Arctic extends far northward which covers an area twice as large as California, and it might overlap with the area which Russia claims.In 2006, Norway submitted to the CLCS its outer continental shelf application covering the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and other waters. In April 2009, the CLCS made recommendations to Norway on the outer limits of the outer continental shelf, thus Norway becoming the first Arctic country to have delineation of the outer continental shelf.(3) Disputes concerning the Arctic sea route jurisdiction and the rights of passage. Russia and Canada step up jurisdiction over Arctic navigation routes through their domestic legislations. In particular they delineate parts of waters in the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage as internal waters by claiming historical rights and using straight baselines, and request foreign vessels to navigate with permission. The United States, in the name of the freedom of navigation, regards the internal waters claimed by Russia and Canada to be international waters and challenges Russian and Canadian jurisdiction by passing the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage without permission. For years the United States and Russia have not be able to reach an agreement. The United States and Canada, through consultations, reached the Arctic Cooperation Agreement in January 1988. According to the agreement, the US vessels, subject to permission, could navigate in Canadas northern waters including the Northwest Passage. The agreement also states that both sides reserve their respective positions on the legal status of the Northwest Passage. In addition to the United States, the European Union officially lodged its objection to Canadas practice of delineating the Northwest Passage as its internal waters.(4) Disputes over the Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen. When the Treaty was concluded in 1920 for the purpose of solving the controversy between Russia, Norway and other countries over mineral ownership on Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, it recognized Norways sovereignty while providing that citizens of any of the signatory countries enjoy free access to the islands and the equal rights to engage in economic activities.However, due to the compromising nature of the treaty, there have been constant disputes in practice. (a) Russia and Iceland insist that citizens of signatory countries could engage in commercial fishing and oil and gas resource development activities in the islands exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. Norway, however, insists that equal economic activities are limited to the land and territorial waters of the islands. Recently the United Kingdom and Spain have officially supported the position of Russia and Iceland. (b) According to the Treaty, citizens of signatory countries, subject to notification, could engage in economic activities on the Islands. However, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act published by Norway in 2002 stipulated that many commercial activities are subject to Norwegian permission. Russia believes that the Act seriously undermines the substantive rights of signatory countries to economic activities on the Islands.Owing to the fact of uncompleted delimitation on exclusive economic zone, continental shelf and, in particular, the outer continental shelf, the uncertainty of legal status concerning the marine areas in the Arctic is likely to affect future cooperation in the Arctic region. The countries concerned should abide by the UNCLOS and other relevant international laws and agreements and, based on scientific data, resolve disputes through peaceful consultation and negotiation.Moreover, the accelerated ice-melting not only brings new opportunities such as opening of Arctic waterways and economic development in the region, but also poses new challenges to fragile Arctic ecological environment. The international community should also, on the basis of the existing international law, consider making more and targeted mechanism to protect the safety of the Arctic navigation and prevent and reduce any environmental impacts which might be caused by navigation.

IIIOn Arctic affairs, the Arctic countries are cooperative and competitive to each other while taking acceptable as well as cautious attitudes to non-Arctic countries participation.The Arctic countries attach great importance to the Arctic affairs, and they have formulated,...