For example, on 24 April 2014, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark paid a state visit to China, and was received by President Xi Jinping (Global Times, “China, Denmark eye closer relationship“, 2014-4-25). During this visit, a ceremony was held over the signature of several agreements, “involving maritime technology, energy conservation, and poverty elimination among other fields.” (Global Times, ibid).
These new political and economic ties between Beijing and Copenhagen are being developed alongside new relations between China and Greenland (Viviane du Castel et Paulo Brito, Groenland, entre independence et recuperation géostratégique?, 2014), which, today, is partly autonomous from Denmark.
This takes place within the larger context of the development of the Chinese presence among Arctic Nations, through, for example, the free trade agreement with Iceland (Valantin, “The Dragon and the Vikings“, 2014), or the historic USD 400 billion gas trade agreement with Russia, the “warming” of the diplomatic and economic exchanges with Norway, and while China was granted the status of “permanent observer” by the Arctic council member states (Canada, the United States of America, the Kingdom of Denmark, the Federation of Russia, Finland, Sweden).
All of these countries have intensified their bilateral relations with the People’s Republic of China since the beginning of this century, when the effects of global warming became apparent (Valantin,” The Warming Arctic: a hyper strategic crisis“, 2014), with the opening of new Pacific/Atlantic shipping lines in the near future, and with the melting of icecap and sea ice, which makes new resources accessible.
In fact, it appears that China is set on a strategic course aiming at transforming itself into the political, strategic and economic centre of the Arctic. In other terms the “Middle Kingdom” puts itself “in the middle” of the region.
“Near Arctic” or “near China”?
Since 2010, the Chinese political authorities have qualified their country as being a “near Arctic” nation. According to Linda Jakobson (“China prepares for an ice-free Arctic“, SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security, 2010), this concept has emerged during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
It was owed to an effort by Chinese scholars, who made themselves heard by the government, because their works led them to assert that, due to its rapid warming, the Arctic was becoming a region that no country having a status of global power could ignore (Jakobson, ibid). Since then, China has deepened its global power, and accessing the Arctic is both a mean and a consequence of this new status.
Moreover, it must be understood that the Chinese conception of power and influence is different from the European or American one (Quynh Delaunay, Naissance de la Chine Moderne, L’empire du Milieu dans la mondialisation, 2014). China exerts its influence and becomes a “near Arctic” nation by triggering a “need for China” among the different political and economic authorities of the Arctic states.
The purpose of this “need for China” is to support the way Chinese authorities are able to answer to their own always growing national needs (Michael Klare, Rising powers, Shrinking planet, 2008), while helping their partners to develop themselves through their interactions with the “Middle Kingdom”.
By doing so, countries such as Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Greenland, and Finland, are themselves progressively becoming “near China” nations (the cases of the Federation of Russia and of the United States and Canada will necessitate a study in itself).
They are entering the sphere of influence of the immense and singular “Chinese power of need” (Valantin, ibid), defined by the combination of this huge population of one billion and three hundred million people, their basic needs and the new materialistic needs triggered by the access of China to the industrial/consumerist development model.
These needs are the object of the implacable will of the Chinese political authorities and population to extract themselves from extreme poverty (Loretta Napoleoni, Rogue Economics, 2008), while regaining their international symbolic capital and status, their “Face” (Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the transformation of China, 2011).
The “need for China” is implemented by answering to similar concerns experienced by their partners.
Greenland, a “near China” country?
Because of global warming, Greenland, and its very small population of 57 000 people, is becoming a very influential country. A long time protectorate of Denmark, and on its way to autonomy and state-building (Brito, ibid), Greenland is looking for political and financial capital in order to develop itself. The rapid pace of climate warming induces a progressive melting of the ice cap and, in certain places, makes Greenland’s considerable mineral resources more accessible (Carol Matlack, “Chinese worker- in Greenland?“, Bloomberg Business Week, February 10, 2013).
This new geophysical reality is combined with new projects for economic development. In particular, London Mining, the Greenland government and some Chinese partners, among them the state-owned Sichuan Xijie mining investment have elaborated a project to exploit a vast ore deposit in the Southwest of the country. Chinese workers could compose the major part of the workforce (Matlack, ibid).
It is interesting to note that this project is discussed while the Greenland government negotiates with the Danish government in order to obtain the right to exploit uranium and rare earth deposits (Matlack, ibid). In parallel, other Chinese companies are looking for partners and investors for feasibility studies about rare earth mining projects.
For example, the “China Non-Ferrous Metal Industry’s Foreign Engineering and Construction” (NFC) has signed an agreement with the “Junior explorer Greenland Minerals and Energy” over the Kvanefjeld “multi-element project” to lead together industrial feasibility studies (Esmarie Swanopoel, “Greenland gets Chinese rare earth partners in Kvanefjeld“, Mining Weekly, 24 March, 2014).
This Chinese “multi-track” co-industrial development with Greenland allows this semi-autonomous Danish Island to acquire a status it never had: a new regional economic and strategic power. This new power originates not only from its more accessible resources, but also from the possibility of their exploitation with and for China, which power and influence is thus “shared” with Greenland through its contribution to the Chinese industrial sustainability.
The same dynamic allows China to maintain its quasi-monopoly on rare earth elements “by proxy”, as it becomes the first investor and client of Greenland (Loretta Napoleoni, Maonomics, 2011). It must be remembered that, at a time when information technology, which is totally dependent upon the use of rare earth for its key components, has become a vital element of the global day-to-day life, the production of 95% of rare earth by China insures an immense capacity of political and strategic leverage to Beijing (Michael Klare, The Race for what’s left, 2012).
Mining rare earth elements in Greenland is an important way to indirectly maintain this monopoly, while making an ally of this immense country toward which the new opening northeast and northwest Arctic passage converge.
A “near China” Arctic council?
It is also interesting to note that China has started talks with Finland to develop a partnership in the information and communication technology field, upon which rests a large part of the Finnish economy (China-Finland, Strategic ICT Alliance).
In the same time, in April 2014 the Norway government decided not to receive the Dalai Lama, thus sending a positive signal to the Chinese government after four years of frozen relations since the Chinese dissident Lu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize (John Fund, “The Dalai Lama as a “necessary sacrifice“, Norway News, 12.05.2014).
Because of the warming and melting of the Arctic, Norway may become a very important milestone on the Northern sea road, which links the North Atlantic to the Pacific through the Bering Strait, by following the coastline of Siberia (Charles Emmerson, The Future History of the Arctic, 2010).
Norway’s government and business community need to take into account these evolutions, notably the opening of these new shipping lines between Europe, Russia and China, for the strategic future of the country. Besides, the Norwegian fishing industry and the expertise of Norwegian industries in off-shore oil and gas drilling (Emmerson, ibid) may be of major interest for energy hungry China.
Also, if China becomes extremely influential in the Arctic by installing itself at the centre of the nexus of international relations that define the region, it can do so because Russia, which is a major historic Arctic and “near Arctic” power, does not oppose it. In fact, Russia is involved in this new development of the warming Arctic, especially by working with China and other Asian nations.
The way a Russian-Asian sphere of co-influence is currently deployed in this most strategic of regions, in a profoundly changing climate situation, must now be studied.
To be (soon) continued.