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Russia and the Arctic in China's Quest for Great-Power Status

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Abstract

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chinas expanding
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Russia and the Arctic
Russia and the Arctic in Chinas Quest for
Great-Power Status
Elizabeth Wishnick
executive summary
is chapter examines the contributions of both Russia and the Arctic to
China’s quest for great-power status and highlights the constraints that China
faces in its interactions with each.
main argument
e Sino-Russian partnership and China’s growing role in Arctic aairs attest
to the country’s aspirations as a rule-maker. A comparison of its objectives
with regard to Russia and the Arctic shows that China faces dierent
challenges as an insider in its partnership with Russia and as an outsider in
its Arctic activities. With Russia, China must accept some constraints (e.g.,
in Central Asia and the Arctic) and agree to disagree with some Russian
policies (e.g., on Ukraine) in exchange for Russian diplomatic support and
military cooperation. In the Arctic, China fears being le out of the evolving
governance structures and seeks to position itself through diplomacy and
investments to take advantage of future opportunities aorded by climate
change and its observer status in the Arctic Council.
policy implications
Greater U.S. support for its own alliances as well as for democratic principles
and institutions will be important in counteracting Sino-Russian eorts to
erode their functioning.
Russia’s ability to pursue a more diversied Asia policy will constrain
China’s ambitions in the region.
China’s Arctic ambitions reect its great-power and maritime-power
aspirations. e U.S. should work to involve China in Arctic governance
along with other observer states, while remaining mindful of Chinese
eorts to increase its economic leverage in the region.
e U.S. needs to play a more active role in Arctic aairs to better support
its interests by funding scientic research, modernizing its icebreaker
eet, cooperating on the environment, and ratifying the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Russia and the Arctic
Russia and the Arctic in Chinas
Quest for Great-Power Status
Elizabeth Wishnick
Despite Russias economic diculties and diminished status relative to
the Soviet era, the Sino-Russian partnership has played an important role in
the rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a great power. is has been
most obvious in terms of military cooperation, where Russia was one of only a
few countries willing and able to sell China the weapons systems it wanted in
the aermath of post-Tiananmen sanctions. Although China has increasingly
sought to produce its own weapons since the mid-2000s, it continues to buy
some Russian-made systems, which could have a considerable impact on
Asian regional security. Moreover, Sino-Russian naval exercises have enabled
China to show its ag more widely as it seeks to expand its maritime power
well beyond its own shores.
In terms of energy, neighboring Russia has been a logical supplier of
the oil and gas that China increasingly needs to power its growing economy.
Although agreements for oil and gas pipelines took a long time to negotiate,
Russia is now Chinas top oil supplier, providing about 15% of its oil in 2018.
1
Aer sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014, China succeeded in investing
in key upstream energy projects in the country, such as the Yamal liqueed
natural gas (LNG) plant. Energy cooperation with Russia supports many key
Chinese goals—reducing the risk of chokepoints in the Malacca Strait and the
1
Daniel Workman, “Top 15 Crude Oil Suppliers to China,” World’s Top Exports, April 1, 2018, http://
www.worldstopexports.com/top-15-crude-oil-suppliers-to-china.
Elizabeth Wishnick is a Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University. She can be
reached at <wishnicke@montclair.edu>.
 Strategic Asia 
Suez Canal, encouraging long-sought cooperation between northeast China
and the Russian Far East, and highlighting China’s role in the development
of Arctic resources.
While China is geographically an outsider in the Arctic, it claims to be
a “near-Arctic” state on the basis of its physical presence, achieved through
investments, research stations, and diplomacy in the region. Russia both
facilitates and restrains Chinas role, which is important for its great-power
aspirations. Indeed, the Arctic is the only region in the world where China
is an outsider, and Chinese leaders fear missing out on the bounty to be
developed as the polar ice melts. Yet the Arctic is important for China not
only economically, due to the promise of reduced shipping times to Europe
and plentiful resources, but also politically. As the Arctic ice recedes, China
wants to be a participant in the governance process that will decide how to
manage the region’s resources and waterways. Participation in the Arctic also
requires improving China’s naval and shipping capabilities to accommodate
Arctic routes and projects. In addition, China’s Arctic diplomacy supports its
approach to Europe more broadly, where the country seeks out opportunities
to engage, divide, and expand its presence. Nonetheless, in the short term,
China faces many constraints in the region.
is chapter examines the contributions of both Russia and the Arctic
to China’s quest for great-power status and highlights the constraints that
China faces in its interactions with each. In the rst section on China’s
ambitions vis-à-vis Russia, key areas of cooperation (specically defense
and energy) are examined. is section also discusses the ties between
northeast China and the Russian Far East, especially within the context of
the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and Russian support for China’s global and
regional positions. While Russia provides considerable support for China’s
great-power aspirations, the Sino-Russian partnership also constrains China
in other respects, especially in terms of its Arctic ambitions. e second
main section focuses on these great-power ambitions in the Arctic, including
China’s eorts to establish a physical presence in the region and relations
with Arctic states. e chapter concludes with a discussion of the policy
consequences for the Arctic region and the United States of China’s ambitions
in both the Sino-Russian partnership and the Arctic.
China’s Ambitions and Russia
e Sino-Russian partnership is neither an alliance nor a marriage of
convenience. e focus on asymmetries and dierences on some issues
obscures China’s interests, which are long-term and reect the perception
that the Sino-Russian partnership can help China deal with certain
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
key threats. Indeed, this partnership has supported China’s global, regional,
and domestic ambitions by improving its energy security, enhancing its
military capabilities, contributing to the development of its northern
border provinces, and providing support on important foreign policy
issues. Nonetheless, this partnership constrains Chinese ambitions in other
respects—by requiring the country to be more circumspect in Central Asia
and the Arctic and tolerate Russian arms sales to China’s rivals in Asia.
Chinese investments in Russia also have been limited by Russian caution
and the imperfect business climate, especially in the eastern region of the
country, where Chinese ocials had high hopes for cooperation.
Enhancing Military Capabilities
Creating a strong military is a key component of Xi Jinping’s “China
dream.” At the 19th Party Congress in November 2017, Xi declared that
China’s military modernization would be nearly complete in 2035 and
that the PRC would have a world-class military by 2050.2 is involves
developing capabilities that allow the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to
project power beyond China’s borders and coastlines as well as to challenge
U.S. technological superiority.3
Since the 1990s, security cooperation with Russia has been an important
factor in China’s military modernization. Unable to purchase Western
military technology aer the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, China
turned to Russia to satisfy most of its military needs, spending an average of
$1 billion annually in the 1990s and more than $2 billion per year in the early
2000s.4 is was a mutually benecial arrangement that extended a lifeline
to Russia’s ailing defense industries and provided China with a source of
relatively aordable military technology to improve its forces.
5
Within a few
years, Chinese arms purchases had declined and were limited to component
parts. Indigenous industries proved capable of producing major systems,
though these were largely based on older designs from Russia and other
countries. At the same time, as a result of concerns over reverse engineering
2
“Full Text of Xi Jinping’s Report at 19th CPC National Congress,” Xinhua, November 3, 2017, http://
www.xinhuanet.com/english/special/2017-11/03/c_136725942.htm.
3 U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving
the People’s Republic of China 2017 (Washington, D.C., 2017), 6, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/
Documents/pubs/2017_China_Military_Power_Report.PDF.
4
Paul Schwartz, “Sino-Russian Defense Relations Intensify,” Asan Forum, December 23, 2015, http://
www.theasanforum.org/sino-russian-defense-relations-intensify.
5
Ethan Meick, “China-Russia Military-to-Military Relations: Moving toward a Higher Level of
Cooperation,” U.S. Economic and Security Review Commission, Sta Research Report, March
20, 2017, 4, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/les/Research/China-Russia%20Mil-Mil%20
Relations%20Moving%20Toward%20Higher%20Level%20of%20Cooperation.pdf.
 Strategic Asia 
by Chinese manufacturers, Russia refused to sell its most advanced systems
to China during this period, including some that were sold to India.
6
In 2008,
China and Russia signed an agreement on intellectual property to address
these concerns, paving the way for Chinese purchases of major Russian
systems.
7
Moreover, Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russian policy toward
Asia, reported that a defense review conducted aer the Ukraine crisis found
that many of the systems Moscow believed China had reverse-engineered
actually were developed indigenously thanks to improvements in Chinese
defense technology.8
Contemporary Sino-Russian military cooperation involves arms
purchases, joint production of weapons systems, policy consultations, and
exercises.9 A number of deals were under contract by 2014, including for
Su-35 ghter jets, when international sanctions were imposed on Russia.
10
e
sanctions accelerated ongoing negotiations and spurred a series of additional
sales, such as a $1.7 billion contract for S-400 surface-to-air missiles, reached
in the fall of 2014. China has long sought these systems to support its
goals in Taiwan and the South China Sea. Once fully deployed, the S-400
will facilitate coastal defense and extend to the entire territory of Taiwan.
Naval deployments of the system will be an important defense against U.S.
long-range anti-ship missiles. e Su-35 would enable China to expand its
patrolling of disputed areas in the East and South China Seas.11
As the Sino-Russian partnership has deepened in recent years, the two
sides are increasingly collaborating on the production of military technology.
China and Russia will jointly produce a number of systems, including a
Chinese-nanced heavy-li helicopter for exclusive Chinese use, submarines
based on the Lada-class diesel model, and aircra engines and space
components.
12
Chinese suppliers have also been able to replace some key
6 Charles Clover, “Russia Resumes Advanced Weapons Sales to China,Financial Times, November 3,
2016, https://www..com/content/90b1ada2-a18e-11e6-86d5-4e36b35c3550.
7
Elina Sinkkonen, “China-Russia Security Cooperation: Geopolitical Signalling with Limits,” Finnish
Institute of International Aairs, Brieng Paper, no. 231, January 16, 2018, 6, https://storage.
googleapis.com/upi-live/2018/01/bp231_china-russia.pdf.
8 Alexander Gabuev, “China and Russia: Friends with Strategic Benets,” Lowy Institute, Interpreter,
April 7, 2017, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/china-and-russia-friends-strategic-
benets.
9
Li Shuyin, “Dui ZhongE junshi hezuo de lishi kaocha yu sikao” [Historical Investigation and
Reection on the Military Cooperation between China and Russia], Eluosi xuekan, no. 3 (2016): 6.
10
Alexander Lukin, China and Russia: e New Rapprochement (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018), 157.
11 Paul Schwartz, “Evolution of Sino-Russian Defense Cooperation since the Cold War (Part 1 + Part
2),” in International Relations and Asia’s Northern Tier: Sino-Russia Relations, North Korea, and
Mongolia, ed. Gilbert Rozman and Sergey Radchenko (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 42.
12 Meick, “China-Russia Military-to-Military Relations,” 16–17.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
components that Russia once received from Ukraine.13 In addition, increasing
restrictions in the West on cooperation with Chinese civilian companies
on dual-use technology production has encouraged greater Sino-Russian
cooperation in this area.14 China’s interest in joint production also partly
reects a realization within the country that its indigenous defense industries
remain weak in research and development despite their rapid development.
15
Yet although Russian arms sales and the joint production of weapons
systems contribute to the ability of China to fulll its global, regional, and
domestic ambitions, the partnership also constrains it in several important
respects. As China seeks to expand its own clientele for weapons, it nds
itself competing with Russia for market share in East Asia—for example, in
Myanmar and the Philippines. In addition, Russian arms sales to China are
counterbalanced by sales, including of more advanced components, to key
regional opponents like India and Vietnam.
China and Russia have been holding joint military exercises regularly
since 2005, including naval exercises since 2012. Initially these exercises
provided an opportunity for China to assess Russian military technologies
for potential purchase while enabling the PLA to gain operational knowledge.
In recent years, however, they have emphasized interoperability and provided
training in a variety of combat scenarios. e naval exercises in particular
have highlighted the PLA Navy’s growing capabilities and increasingly global
aspirations (see Tab le 1). Chinese commentary notes the strategic importance
of the exercises, given the tension over maritime issues in many regions as
well as the specic sites selected.16 e rst three sets of naval exercises took
place in East Asia (the Yellow Sea, Sea of Japan, and East China Sea), but
subsequent rounds have taken place much farther aeld in the Mediterranean
(2015), the South China Sea (2016), and the Baltic Sea (2017).
In September 2018, 3,200 Chinese personnel took part for the rst time
in the land-based Vostok (East) exercises that Russia typically holds on its
own. While many Western observers have tended to view these biannual
exercises as Russian preparations against a potential Chinese threat, this
time commentary focused on the large (but likely inated) number of
13 Richard A. Bitzinger and Nicu Popescu, eds., Defence Industries in Russia and China: Players and
Strategies, ISSUE Report 38 (Luxembourg: EU Institute for Security Studies, 2017), 17.
14 Vassily Kashin, “Industrial Cooperation: Path to Conuence of Russian and Chinese Economies,
Russia in Global Aairs, April 18, 2016, https://eng.globalaairs.ru/valday/Industrial-cooperation-
path-to-conuence-of-russian-and-chinese-economies-18111.
15 Bitzinger and Popescu, Defence Industries in Russia and China, 17.
16
Ma Yao, “Liangguo zhanlüe cengci de xuyao: ‘Ouzhou neihai’ ZhongE junyan zai guoji guanzhu” [e
Strategic Dimension of the Needs of the Two Countries: e Global Signicance of Sino-Russian
Military Exercises in European Internal Seas], Shijie Bolan, no. 16 (2017): 25.
 Strategic Asia 
forces and the implications for an incipient Sino-Russian military alliance.17
An opinion piece in China’s usually nationalist tabloid the Global Times struck
a measured tone, noting that fears of such an alliance reect “old-fashioned”
17
e Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that nearly 300,000 Russian soldiers participated in
the exercises. Michael Kofman, “Vostok 2018 Day 4 (September 14),” Russia Military Analysis,
September 15, 2018, https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/vostok-2018-day-
4-september-14.
table 1 Chinese-Russian naval exercises
Year Month Host and operational area Scale
2012 April China – Yellow Sea
• 25 warships
• 13 planes
• 9 helicopters
2013 July Russia – Sea of Japan
• 18 surface ships
• 1 submarine
• 3 airplanes
• 5 ship-launched
helicopters
2014 May China – East China Sea
• 14 warships
• 2 submarines
• 9 airplanes
• 6 helicopters
2015
May Russia – Black Sea/Mediterranean Sea • 18 warships
August Russia – Sea of Japan • 23 vessels
• 2 submarines
2016 September China – South China Sea
• 18 ships and support
vessels
• 21 aircraft
2017
July Russia – Baltic Sea
• 13 warships
K a-27 multipurpose
ship-borne helicopters
• Su-24 tactical
bombers
September Russia – Sea of Japan/Okhotsk Sea
• 11 ships
• 2 submarines
• 4 antisubmarine
warfare aircraft
• 4 ship-borne
helicopters
source: David Scott, “Russia-China Naval Cooperation in an Era of Great Power
Competition,” Center for International Maritime Cooperation, June 12, 2018, http://cimsec.
org/russia-china-naval-cooperation-in-an-era-of-great-power-competition/36773.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
logic and arguing that the Sino-Russian partnership was evolving so that
the two countries could meet new challenges together.18 China Daily further
explained that it was only “natural” for two neighbors with excellent bilateral
ties to cooperate and that the exercises would improve their capability to
respond to regional crises.
19
Gabuev argues that exercises like Vostok serve as
vehicles for condence-building among senior Chinese and Russian ocials.
He further claims that in an environment where both countries feel increased
pressure from the United States, they have begun to share intelligence on CIA
operations and possibly even cooperate in determining U.S. vulnerabilities
in cyberspace.20
Energy Cooperation
Chinese leaders have long touted energy cooperation as a key aspect
of the Sino-Russian partnership, particularly with respect to cooperation
between northeast China and the Russian Far East. In May 1992, China
National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) first proposed developing
Siberian oil for the Asian market. e following year China became a net
oil importer for the rst time. ree years later in 1996, the same year that
the Sino-Russian strategic partnership was initiated, the two countries
established an intergovernmental commission on energy cooperation. In
1997, they signed an intergovernmental agreement for a pipeline that would
ship Siberian natural gas to China.21
e East Siberia–Pacic Ocean (ESPO) pipeline spanning from Taishet in
East Siberia to Kozmino on Russias Pacic coast was completed in 2009 and
began pumping oil to China via a branch line to Daqing in 2011. On January
1, 2018, a second parallel branch line from Russia to China began operating,
enabling crude deliveries to double from 15 million tons to 30 million tons per
ye ar.22 Russia has been China’s top supplier of crude since 2016, surpassing
Saudi Arabia. anks to energy cooperation with Russia, China has been
able to diversify its supply sources beyond the Middle East, via land pipeline
18
“Jiefangjun canjia Ejunyan tuxian jieban bu jie meng” [PLA Participation in Russian Military
Exercises Highlights Partnership Not Alliance], Huanqiu Shibao, August 29, 2018, http://opinion.
huanqiu.com/editorial/2018-08/12868870.html.
19
“Military Exercise Should Not Be Misinterpreted,” China Daily, August 30, 2018, http://europe.
chinadaily.com.cn/a/201808/30/WS5b87f0bba310add14f388b96.html.
20
Alexander Gabuev, “Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties,” Foreign Aairs,
September 24, 2018, https://www.foreignaairs.com/articles/china/2018-09-24/why-russia-and-
china-are-strengthening-security-ties.
21 Keun-Wook Paik, Sino-Russian Oil and Gas Cooperation: e Reality and Implications (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2012), 10–12.
22
Li Fang, “New Line of China-Russian Oil Pipeline Begins Operation,” Xinhua, January 1, 2018,
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-01/01/c_136864998.htm.
 Strategic Asia 
and LNG, thereby reducing the impact of the “Malacca dilemma”—China’s
vulnerability to Middle East oil supplies being cut o at the chokepoint of
the narrow Malacca Strait.
Gas pipelines connecting Russia and China have been slower to move
forward. Aer years of dicult negotiations, an agreement for the $400 billion
Power of Siberia gas pipeline connecting the two countries was nally signed,
and the rst gas is expected to be pumped in 2019. A second pipeline,
spanning from the Altai region to China, remains under discussion. e
western route has always been less desirable for China, which receives gas
from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan and has highest demand
in its eastern coastal areas, than for Russia, which has harbored hopes of
becoming a swing producer for Europe.23
Energy cooperation is a key piece of BRI and an important means of
involving Russia within Xi’s signature initiative, despite the history of dicult
bilateral negotiations. According to the 2017 white paper jointly issued by
China’s National Development and Reform Commission and the National
Energy Administration, “the Belt and Road Initiative seeks to foster energy
cooperation in order to jointly build up an open, inclusive, and benecial
community of shared interests, responsibility and destiny.
24
Initially, maps
of BRI appeared to circumvent Russia, but by 2015, Xi and Vladimir Putin
agreed to a “great Eurasian partnership” that would connect the initiative to
the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
25
Despite these grandiose
plans for economic corridors and major infrastructure development, the scale
of Sino-Russian cooperation has thus far been modest and mostly centered
on the Russian Far East.
One exception is the Yamal LNG plant. Chinese lenders invested
$12 billion in the $27 billion project operated by Novatek, a private company
with connections to the Kremlin, aer CNPC secured a 20% stake and the Silk
Road Fund acquired 9.9%.26 China contracted to purchase 3 million tons of
23 Elizabeth Wishnick, “‘e ‘Power of Siberia’: No Longer a Pipe Dream,” PONARS Eurasia, Policy
Memo, no. 332, August 18, 2014, http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/%E2%80%9Cpower-
siberia%E2%80%9D-no-longer-pipe-dream.
24
National Development and Reform Commission and National Energy Administration of the People’s
Republic of China (PRC), “Vision and Actions on Energy Cooperation in Jointly Building Silk Road
Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road,” May 12, 2017, http://www.nea.gov.cn/2017-
05/12/c_136277478.htm.
25 Sebastien Peyrouse, “e Evolution of Russia’s Views on the Belt and Road Initiative,Asia Policy,
no. 24 (2017): 96.
26
Elena Mazneva, “From Russia with Love: A Super-Chilled Prize for China,” Bloomberg, October 26,
2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-26/china-to-get-rst-yamal-lng-cargo-as-
russia-says-thank-you.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
LNG annually and the plant began production in December 2017.
27
As China
seeks to decrease its dependence on coal, still the country’s dominant energy
source, LNG imports have soared, climbing 46% in 2017.28 e Yama l
investment has supported Xi’s eorts to increase reliance on cleaner energy
sources while providing opportunities for Chinese companies to supply
equipment and gain expertise in Arctic conditions.29
Expanding nuclear energy has also been a key component of Xi’s eorts
to reduce China’s reliance on fossil fuels. e Soviet Union and China had a
brief period of nuclear cooperation in the late 1950s that would fall victim to
the Sino-Soviet split. Chinese cooperation with Russia on nuclear energy began
in 1992 with the signing of an intergovernmental agreement. Construction
commenced in 1999 on the rst two blocks of the two-gigawatt Tianwan
Nuclear Power Station in Jiangsu Province, the rst major Sino-Russian
cooperative venture in the nuclear sector, and the project was completed in
2009. Russia and China then signed another agreement to cooperate at the same
power station on the construction of two WWER-1000 reactors, each with a
capacity of 1,060 megawatts. Construction began in 2012 on a third block and
in 2015 on a fourth.
30
e two sides have signed subsequent agreements on
additional blocks that will use Russia’s most advanced technology.
Despite such progress, limitations on energy cooperation persist due to a
variety of causes. In the area of nuclear technology, China’s complaints about
delivery times and Russia’s concerns about competition for nuclear contracts
have introduced obstacles to cooperation. Previously, Russian technology
faced competition from U.S. and Japanese suppliers, but China’s interest
in developing its own technology poses a new threat and has constrained
Sino-Russian nuclear deals. For example, a consortium of Chinese companies
appears to be developing oating nuclear technology largely on their own,
despite having signed agreements with Russia, which has been a leader in
this area. is capability will enable China to better supply its outposts in
the South China Sea independently of Russia. Similarly, fearing excessive
dependence on the Chinese market, Russian ocials in eect barred Chinese
companies from upstream oil and gas investments in Russia in the rst decade
27
Viktor Katona, “Yamal LNG Is Conquering China,” Oil Price, July 16, 2018, https://oilprice.com/
Energy/Natural-Gas/Yamal-LNG-Is-Conquering-China.html.
28 Anna Shiryaevskaya, Matthew Carr, and Dan Murtaugh, “What LNG Traders Want to Know Most
Is if China Surprises Again,” Bloomberg, February 13, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/
articles/2018-02-13/what-lng-traders-want-to-know-most-is-if-china-surprises-again.
29 Nadezhda Filimonova and Svetlana Krivokhizh, “China’s Stakes in the Russian Arctic,Diplomat,
January 18, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/chinas-stakes-in-the-russian-arctic.
30 James Henderson and Tatiana Mitrova, Energy Relations between Russia and China: Playing Chess
with the Dragon (Oxford: Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, 2016), 72, https://www.oxfordenergy.
org/publications/energy-relations-russia-china-playing-chess-dragon.
 Strategic Asia 
of the 2000s, even as it allowed such investment from other Asian partners
like India and Vietnam. While Russian opposition had soened by the end of
2010, it was the sanctions imposed following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine
that nally removed any remaining caution about Chinese investments in
the energy sector.31
Developing China’s Northeast Provinces
For China, the end of the Sino-Soviet conict in the late 1980s brought
security to the border regions and led to condence-building steps with
Russia and Central Asian neighbors in the 1990s. e meetings of the
Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan)
became the basis for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO),
created in 2001 to foster regional economic and security cooperation. e
settlement of outstanding border disputes with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s
paved the way for bilateral cross-border cooperation and generated hope
and enthusiasm for the development of China’s northeastern provinces,
which have lagged economically. Northeast China was the rst region to
industrialize, and successive Chinese leaders have sought to reinvigorate
inecient state-owned enterprises and address the social consequences
of underemployment, including periods of worker unrest. In China, the
revitalization of the northeast is now the focus of a leading group headed
by Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Since the 1990s, Russian concerns about illegal Chinese immigration
to the Russian Far East and population asymmetries have served as a brake
on cooperation. Another factor is the lack of Russian investment in regional
development and a poor investment climate in the region for foreign investors.
In recent years, Russia and China have created new institutions to oversee
their regional cooperation. In 2009 the two sides developed a ten-year strategy
for cooperation between northeast China and the Russian Far East, and in
2016 they set up an intergovernmental commission to discuss cooperation.
Two years later, the China Development Bank, one of China’s three policy
banks, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund announced a plan to set
up the China-Russia RMB Investment Cooperation Fund, which will invest
$10 billion in joint projects.
Some joint regional projects now nally appear to be near fruition,
such as the Tongjiang-Nizhneleninskoye railway bridge that is part of
the China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor and a key component of
31 Lukin, China and Russia, 148–49.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
BRI, and a high-speed rail line connecting Harbin and Vladivostok.32 e
railway bridge, expected to be completed in 2019, will be the rst bridge
connecting the Russian and Chinese rail lines and is expected to reduce
shipping costs and time between the two countries. e long-discussed
Blagoveshchensk-Heihe automobile bridge is slated for completion in
2020.33 Other projects under the BRI umbrella include two new trade
corridors that will use Russian Far East ports as hubs. Primorye-1 will serve
as a conduit for Chinese goods bound for the west coast of the United States
via Vladivostok, Nakhodka, and Vostochny, while Primorye-2 will focus
on trade with Japan and the Korean Peninsula and connect Changchun
with Zarubino.34
Experts in the Russian Far East hope that Pacic Russia will become
integrated more broadly with the Asia-Pacic region and diversify both its
partners and economy.
35
While progress on oil and gas pipeline projects
is oen viewed as the barometer for the vitality of the Sino-Russian
partnership, over the years the two countries have quietly pursued
cooperation in renewable energy, especially hydropower. As early as 1992,
China’s Heilongjiang Province began receiving electricity from Russian
hydropower plants across the Amur River from Heihe City, and this
cooperation was expanded in the 2000s. In 2014, China and Russia signed
a long-term contract for the export to China of 100 billion kilowatt hours
of electricity through 2036.36 Beijing views this as a model of trans-border
energy cooperation, bringing reliable and clean energy to China and
improving economic ties with Russia. It has sought to replicate this success
with other neighbors rst through BRI and later through the Global Energy
Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization, which was
established in 2017 to promote such eorts worldwide.37
32 Chinging Chen, “Heilongjiang Highway Bridge Project Moves Ahead,Global Times, August 17,
2017, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1061888.shtml; and “Kitay nastroilsya na skorost” [China
Is in the Mood for Speed], EastRussia, November 16, 2018.
33 Ivan Zuenko, “A Milestone, Not a Turning Point: How China Will Develop the Russian Far East,”
Carnegie Moscow Center, November 8, 2018, https://carnegie.ru/commentary/77671.
34
Qiyang Niu, “Can Russia Save Northeast China’s Economy?Diplomat, April 8, 2017, https://
thediplomat.com/2017/04/can-russia-save-northeast-chinas-economy; and “Russia, China Agree
On Primorye-1 Corridor; Opens Up Heilongjiang to Asia-Pacic Markets,” Russia Brieng, May
15, 2017, https://www.russia-brieng.com/news/russia-china-agree-primorye-1-corridor-opens-
heilongjiang-asia-pacic-markets.html.
35
Victor Larin, “Pacic Russia in the New Regionalism of North Pacic: Cross-Border and Inter-
Regional Relations,” in e Political Economy of Pacic Russia: Regional Developments in East Asia,
ed. Huang Jing and Alexander Korolev (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 42.
36 Henderson and Mitrova, Energy Relations between Russia and China, 72.
37
“Economic Watch: China Pushes for Global Energy Network to Power B&R Initiative,” Xinhua,
September 5, 2017, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-05/09/c_136269140.htm.
 Strategic Asia 
Agriculture is another promising area of cooperation between northeast
China and the Russian Far East. However, this area, too, is not without
controversy when Chinese farm workers are employed or lease land in the
region. Although northeast China is a food-producing region, it is also home
to heavily polluting industries. Consequently, around 80% of the water in
the region is considered unsafe for drinking.
38
Moreover, one-h of the
land is contaminated by soil pollution.39 For these reasons, Chinas wary
consumers welcome Russian agricultural products, which are produced under
greener conditions. China is building a new port in Fuyuan in Heilongjiang
Province on the Amur River to accommodate up to 650,000 tons of grain
by September 2019. Grain exports from Russia increased 42% in the rst
half of 2018 compared with the previous year and reached 1.23 million tons.
China’s largest food processor, COFCO (China National Cereals, Oils and
Foodstus Corporation), is prepared to import up to 4 million tons of spring
wheat alone in the future.40
e diculties in Sino-Russian cooperation in oil and gas reect a
broader problem—the disconnect between Chinese and Russian approaches to
regional integration. While China has allocated considerable resources to BRI,
Russia has only partially implemented its own agenda for the development
of the Russian Far East, as outlined in its 2009 strategy document.41 More
importantly, the Chinese conception of comparative advantage, based on the
asymmetric involvement of weaker neighboring economies to the benet of its
own, is very dierent from the Russian conception of economic development
for the region, which relies on state-led industrialization.42
A similar mismatch of approaches is occurring in Central Asia, which
Chinese leaders have long viewed as a key region economically and politically.
China has needed to tread more cautiously due to Russia’s long-standing view
of the region as its sphere of interest and its own identity as a key player in
Eurasia. Another issue is local Sinophobia, though the Ukraine events created
more concern in the region about Russian intentions, perhaps reducing fear of
China to some extent. China’s inability to push forward multilateral economic
38
“China Pollution: O ver 80% of Rural Water in North-east ‘Undrinkable,’” BBC News, April 12, 2016,
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-36022538.
39
Yu Zhuang, “Soil Pollution in China reatens the Health of Its Citizens and Investment,” Asian
Environmental Governance Blog, May 9, 2016, http://asia-environment.vermontlaw.edu/2016/05/09/
soil-pollution-in-china.
40
“Russia’s Grain Exports to China Hit Record One Million Tons,” RT, May 17, 2018, https://www.
rt.com/business/426971-russia-china-grain-exports.
41
Ivan Zuenko, “A Chinese-Russian Regional Program Ends with a Whimper,” Carnegie Moscow
Center, September 26, 2018, https://carnegie.ru/commentary/77341.
42 Gaye Christoersen, “Northeast China and the Russian Far East: Positive Scenarios and Negative
Scenarios,” in Rozman and Radchenko, International Relations and Asia’s Northern Tier, 220.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
projects within the SCO helped motivate it to create its own institutions, such
as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and frameworks such as
BRI, to engage with Central Asia, other neighbors, and partners outside the
region. In pursuing these initiatives, China has had to be mindful of Russian
sensitivities and has made an eort to engage Russia by signing an agreement
with the EEU and urging the country to be a key stakeholder in the AIIB.
Support for Chinese Global and Regional Positions
Xi Jinping has called the partnership with Russia a “ballast stone.43
e relationship has served as a model for Chinas approach to great-power
relations. In their numerous interactions and joint statements, the two
countries have outlined the rules of the authoritarian road, including
noninterference in the domestic aairs of states and a strong emphasis on
sovereignty. Together, China and Russia have put forward joint initiatives at
the United Nations and resisted the widespread application of human rights
norms, such as the responsibility to protect civilians and the imposition of
sanctions for human rights violations. ey have used their double veto to
block Western initiatives and show a united front, even when a single veto
would have been sucient.44 While China and Russia are not in a position
to challenge the global order, they have been involved in rule-making and
pushed back against rule-taking in situations where their own interests are
threatened. By promoting alternative norms, they seek to be insiders in an
evolving international system rather than outliers in the liberal order. ey
have sought to take advantage of information asymmetries in interactions
with democracies to expand their own inuence at the expense of democratic
choices—what Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig have called projecting
“sharp power.45
At a time when China’s increasingly active role in the Asia-Pacic
has caused alarm in many countries, its partnership with Russia, despite
limitations on some issues, has provided an important source of support.
Lacking any specic mutual defense clause, the partnership falls short of
an alliance. But through their regular meetings, the two countries have
outlined some key norms of behavior for East Asia. Both are opposed to the
deployment of missile defense systems, and their opposition to deployment of
the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system
43 “Xi Says China, Russia Play Role of ‘Ballast Stone’ in World Peace, Stability,” Xinhua, May 14, 2017,
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-05/14/c_136282238.htm.
44 Sinkkonen, “China-Russia Security Cooperation.
45
Ren Xiao, “Toward a Normal State-to-State Relationship? China and the DPRK in Changing
Northeast Asia,North Korean Review 11, no. 2 (2015): 65.
 Strategic Asia 
on the Korean Peninsula led them to begin a special bilateral dialogue on
Asian security issues, as well as to issue a rare statement cosigned by their
foreign ministries.
46
is being said, Russian and Chinese positions on the
North Korean nuclear crisis are not identical. China prefers the status quo to a
united Korea with a U.S. military presence and can deal with a nuclear North
Korea as long as it is not provocative. From its perspective, strengthening the
Sino-Russian partnership prevents North Korea from being able to nd much
daylight between its two main interlocutors. Moreover, due to its leverage,
China has faced more pressure from the international community to use its
economic power to achieve North Korean compliance with UN resolutions,
and Russia’s support for Chinese positions helps alleviate this pressure. Russia,
on the other hand, is more concerned about its long-term economic plans for
the peninsula and becoming a part of the Asian security solution.
Interestingly, both China and Russia claim to pursue neutrality with
respect to the conicts that the other has with the international community
over territory and sovereignty issues. Fu Ying, chair of the Foreign Aairs
Committee of the Chinese legislature, has described the partnership as
“stable, complex, and deeply rooted” but acknowledges the two countries’
dierences in diplomatic style: “Russia is more experienced on the global
theater, and it tends to favor strong, active, and oen surprising diplomatic
maneuvers. Chinese diplomacy, in contrast, is more reactive and cautious.
47
On Ukraine, Fu argues that the Chinese leadership understood Russian policy
in the context of the complex political, economic, and social environment
in Ukraine and against the background of Western intervention in “color
revolutions” and NATO expansion.
48
In her account, China’s ocial response
to the crisis in Ukraine was to urge respect for its territorial sovereignty and
integrity and to outline a three-pronged proposal involving (1) international
coordination to stabilize the situation, (2) an appeal for the parties to refrain
from actions that might aggravate the crisis, and (3) steps to assist Ukraine
economically. While Xi reportedly told Putin just aer the takeover of Crimea
that he understood the situation as an “inevitable accident,” Fu arms that
“Beijing did not take sides” and that “impartiality has been a commitment
that China has consistently honored when dealing with international aairs.
49
Indeed, China abstained from the March 2014 UN Security Council
resolution condemning Russian actions in Crimea. China’s ambassador to the
46 Sinkkonen, “China-Russia Security Cooperation,” 4–5.
47 Fu Ying, “How China Sees Russia,Foreign Aairs, December 14, 2015, https://www.foreignaairs.
com/articles/china/2015-12-14/how-china-sees-russia.
48
Fu Ying, “Are China and Russia Par tnering to Create an Axis?” Valdai Discussion Club, October 24,
2016, http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/are-china-and-russia-partnering-to-create-an-axis.
49 Ibid.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
United Nations Liu Jieyi explained that the resolution would only exacerbate
the crisis and complicate matters.50
China has had to accept Russian neutrality on some of its core concerns
as well, particularly on territorial conicts in the East and South China
Seas. While some analysts interpret the Russian stance as a limitation on
the partnership, others view Russia as largely a “bystander” in the territorial
disputes.
51
Due to the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and pipeline connections to
Europe and Asia, the country does not face the Malacca dilemma so acutely
experienced by its resource-consuming Asian neighbors. Moreover, Russia
needs to cooperate with all of its neighbors to be able to successfully develop
and market the resources from its eastern regions. Regarding the East China
Sea, Nikolai Patrushev, Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, stated
that “Russia doesn’t take any position.
52
Russia, however, gives the appearance
of supporting Chinese positions by cooperating in joint naval exercises in the
region, patrolling by air areas claimed by China, and issuing joint statements
on World War II.
In the case of the South China Sea, Russia has a long history of partnering
with Vietnam, including defense and energy cooperation. It also has sought
to broaden ties with other Southeast Asian states such as the Philippines,
Malaysia, and Indonesia. Although Putin went so far as to support China’s
position not to recognize the validity of the Permanent Court of Arbitration
ruling in 2016,
53
Russia made no ocial expression of support for China’s
claims to the nine-dash line. When some Chinese media overstated the level
of Russian support, the Russian Foreign Ministry pushed back to clarify.
54
In the end, the Chinese Foreign Ministry praised Putins position for its
objectivity and fairness, and Xi himself thanked the Russian president for
his support.55 Although Russia did participate in naval exercises with China
in the South China Sea in 2016 not long aer the court’s decision, these drills
took place in waters recognized by all as Chinese. Yet, as in the case of the East
50
Liu Jieyi, “Statement by Ambassador Liu Jieyi aer Security Council Voting on the Dra Resolution
on Ukraine,” Permanent Mission of the PRC to the UN, March 15, 2014, http://www.china-un.
org/eng/hyyfy/t1140296.htm.
51 For an example of the former view, see Alexander Korolev and Vladimir Portyakov, “China-Russia
Relations in Times of Crisis: A Neo classical Realist Explanation,Asian Perspective 42, no. 3 (2018):
422. For an example of the latter view, see Anna Kireeva, “Russia’s View on the International Security
in Northeast Asia,Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 30, no. 1 (2018): 121.
52 Elizabeth Wishnick, “e Sino-Russian Partnership and the East Asian Order,Asian Perspective
42, no. 3 (2018): 367.
53 “Russia Supports China’s Stance on the South China Sea,” Sputnik News, September 5, 2016, https://
sputniknews.com/world/201609051044988523-russia-china-putin.
54 Lukin, China and Russia, 134.
55 Hua Xia, “China Appreciates Putin’s Position on South China Sea Issue,” Xinhua, September 8, 2016,
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-09/08/c_135673025.htm.
 Strategic Asia 
China Sea, even as Russia avoids clear expressions of support, Russian weapon
sales enable China to better press its claims. e rst Su-35s, for example,
were used by China to patrol the South China Sea in February 2018, enabling
the PLA to respond to a freedom of navigation operation by the USS Hopper
near Scarborough Shoal, which is disputed by China and the Philippines.56
Despite the limitations of the Sino-Russian partnership, in many respects
China has no alternative to Russia as a partner either in global institutions like
the UN Security Council or in East Asia, where most other states are either
competing with China or fearful of its rise. e benets of the partnership
have been signicant for China, particularly in the energy and defense
sectors. Nonetheless, China has had to make some tradeos, for example,
in the Arctic.
China’s Ambitions in the Arctic
e Arctic and China’s Great-Power Ambitions
e Sino-Russian partnership has both supported China’s Arctic
ambitions and at times acted as a check on them. Broadly speaking, the region
serves as a testing ground for key goals of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy agenda.
On January 26, 2018, the Chinese State Council issued a long-awaited white
paper dening its policy goals and interests in the Arctic. e document is
interesting both for what aspects of China’s Arctic policy it highlights and
for what it omits. Focusing on climate change, sustainable development, and
global governance, the white paper downplays China’s security interests in
the region, especially the link between the projection of power in the polar
region and the development of naval capabilities needed for great-power
status. e PLA, however, has been integral to the development of China’s
Arctic capabilities, and the changing Arctic (and China’s evolving role in it)
are becoming a key part of the country’s maritime strategy.57
For several years prior to the white paper’s publication, Chinese
academics sought to justify their country’s role as an Arctic player. ey did
so by pointing to China’s history of involvement in the region, dating back to
the Republic of China’s signing of the Svalbard Treaty in 1925 and then to the
PRC’s participation in the International Arctic Science Committee in 1996
and in research expeditions in subsequent years. In 2003, China acquired a
physical presence in the region by building a research station in Svalbard.
56 Ralph Jennings, “How China Could Gradually Assume Control of Scarborough Shoal in the South
China Sea,Forbes, December 29, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2017/12/29/
chinas-takeover-of-an-islet-disputed-with-the-philippines-3-scenarios/.
57
For further discussion, see Anne-Marie Brady, China as a Polar Great Power (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2017), 75–77.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
In 2013, it nally became an observer on the Arctic Council, and the following
year, Xi rst referred to China as a “polar great power.58 e new priority of
the Arctic mission was reected in its association in 2015 with BRI. Chinese
ocials began outlining a vision for a Polar Silk Road linking BRI to the PRC’s
Arctic infrastructure projects, to be built with the Arctic states, especially
Russia. In June 2017 the National Development and Reform Commission
and State Oceanic Administration identied the Arctic as one of three key
shipping routes under BRI.
Interestingly, Chinese ocials have showcased their country’s Arctic
credentials with a new vertical image of Sinocentrism—a vertical map of the
world with China at the center of the two poles.59 According to Zhang Xia,
director of the Polar Strategy Center at the Polar Research Institute of China,
the vertical map better expresses China’s strategic and development goals with
respect to the polar regions than horizontal maps, with their more limited
land-based focus.
60
For others, however, the map exemplies how Chinese
polar policies have led to a major shi in the country’s view of its own place
in the world.61
In recent years some Chinese experts have begun referring to China
controversially as a “near-Arctic state,” despite the country’s geographic
distance from the Arctic. Yang Jian, vice president of the Shanghai Institute
for International Studies, points to geography, inuence, and connections
to the Arctic as justication for Chinas near-Arctic status. e geographic
factors seem the most tenuous—Yang highlights that the Ertix River begins in
Xinjiang, China, before becoming the Irtysh River in Kazakhstan, which turns
into the Ob River and ows into the Arctic Ocean. He also notes that birds
migrate from China to the Arctic and that Chinese coastal waters ow into
the Arctic.62 Nonetheless, Harbin, one of China’s northernmost cities, is still
located 1,440 miles south of the Arctic Circle, on the same latitude as Venice.
Connections and inuence are more readily established, in terms of
China’s participation in Arctic governance institutions, economic investments
and resource interests in the region, scientic and technical contributions,
58 Brady, China as a Polar Great Power, 109, 182.
59
For an image of the map, see “A New Version of World Map Published,” Chinese Academy of
Sciences, Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics, 2013, http://english.whigg.cas.cn/ns/es/201312/
t20131211_114311.html.
60
Yang Haixia, “Jing lüe Beiji jinzao xingdong—Zhuanfang Zhongguo Jidi Yanjjiu Zhongxin Jidi
Zhanlüe Yanjiushi zhuren Zhang Xia” [A Strategy for Passing through the Arctic as Soon as Possible:
An Interview with Zhang Xia, Director of the Research Division on Polar Strategy at the Polar
Research Institute of China], Xianzhuang Qishi, no. 7 (2018): 20.
61 See, for example, Brady, China as a Polar Great Power, 4.
62 Yang Jian, “Zhongguo de Beiji zhence” [China’s Arctic Policy], Taipingyang Xuebao 3 (2018).
 Strategic Asia 
and partnerships with Arctic states.
63
Geographic evidence notwithstanding,
the 2018 Arctic white paper codies the term near-Arctic state:
China is an important stakeholder in Arctic aairs. Geographically, China is a
“Near-Arctic State,” one of the continental States that are closest to the Arctic
Circle. e natural conditions of the Arctic and their changes have a direct
impact on China’s climate system and ecological environment, and, in turn,
on its economic interests in agriculture, forestry, shery, marine industry and
other sectors.64
e Chinese government justies its participation in the region by virtue
of its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, global economic power,
and interests in Arctic energy, shipping, and infrastructure development.
While recognition of the sovereignty of Arctic states was a precondition for
China’s observer status in the Arctic Council, the white paper emphasizes the
importance of reciprocity and the rights of states outside the region:
States from outside the Arctic region do not have territorial sovereignty in
the Arctic, but they do have rights in respect of scientic research, navigation,
overight, shing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines in the high seas and
other relevant sea areas in the Arctic Ocean, and rights to resource exploration
and exploitation in the Area, pursuant to treaties such as UNCLOS [United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and general international law. In
addition, Contracting Parties to the Spitsbergen Treaty enjoy the liberty of access
and entry to certain areas of the Arctic, the right under conditions of equality
and, in accordance with law, to the exercise and practice of scientic research,
production and commercial activities such as hunting, shing, and mining in
these areas.65
e Chinese government further states its intention to “seize the historic
opportunity” to participate in the development of the Arctic on the basis
of the principles of respect, cooperation, and sustainability with the aim of
building a “shared future of mankind,” a concept that Xi began developing
in 2015.
66
According to the white paper, China seeks “to understand, protect,
develop and participate in the governance of the Arctic, so as to safeguard
63 Yang, “Zhongguo de Beiji zhence,” 33–34.
64 Information Oce of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Arctic Policy 2018
(Beijing, January 2018), https://www.chinadailyhk.com/articles/188/159/234/1516941033919.html.
65
Ibid. Russia and Canada pressed the Arctic Council to change its rules so that members would have
to agree to observe UNCLOS and respect the sovereignty of Arctic states, with their compliance
being subject to review every four years. Aer these new rules were passed in 2011, China and
other non-Arctic states succeeded in achieving observer status in 2013. For further discussion,
see Elizabeth Wishnick, China’s Interests and Goals in the Arctic: Implications for the United States,
Letort Papers (Carlisle: U.S. Army War College Press, 2017), 42, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/
pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1347.
66 Xi Jinping, “A New Partnership of Mutual Benet and a Community of a Shared Future” (speech at
the 70th UN General Assembly, New York, September 29, 2015), in Xi Jinping, e Governance of
China II (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2017), 575.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
the common interests of all countries and the international community
in the Arctic, and promote sustainable development of the Arctic.
67
Polar
scholar Anne-Marie Brady notes that this is a rephrasing of Xi’s 2014 speech
in Chinese (understand, protect, exploit) and integrates his language from
the 19th Party Congress on “common interests of mankind.68
To justify its status as a near-Arctic state and lend credence to its aim to
be a polar great power, China has sought to establish a physical presence at
both poles.69 In the Arctic, as noted earlier, the rst step was the establishment
of China’s Yellow River research base at Svalbard in 2003. is was followed
a decade later by an agreement to set up a joint research station in Iceland,
which was completed in October 2018, to study the aurora borealis. China
put in place its rst overseas satellite-receiving ground station in Kiruna,
Sweden, in December 2016, and in April 2018 it agreed with Finland to set
up a joint center for satellite observation and remote sensing of the Arctic.
Discussions with Greenland about the establishment of a research station
have been taking place since 2015, and in 2017 a Chinese delegation held a
ceremony at the Kangerlussuaq airport to celebrate the future construction of
a satellite ground station there, reportedly before Greenland even authorized
the project.70 Yet while China has been a leader in investment in Arctic
infrastructure and has big plans (and funds) for developing its own Arctic
science capabilities, its scientic contributions remain modest.
China faces several obstacles to fullling its Arctic ambitions. At
present, the country has limited experience in cold-water navigation and
polar research, though the Chinese government has been making substantial
investments, particularly in the latter. In the short term, fears about Russia in
Northern Europe may contribute to greater receptivity to Chinas activities
in the Arctic, but this may no longer be the case if China seeks to play a
more substantial role. e current blowback against China in Sri Lanka,
Malaysia, Djibouti, and other countries over debt incurred in BRI projects
also may lead to more caution by smaller Arctic states. When questioned
about this possibility, Chinese ocials have been quick to dismiss concerns
about China’s role in the region, without much reassurance. For example,
Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou stated that “some people may
have misgivings over our participation in the development of the Arctic,
67 State Council Information Oce (PRC), China’s Arctic Policy.
68
Brady, China as a Polar Great Power, 137. An ocial English translation changed “exploit” to
“explore.” Xi Jinping, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in
All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New
Era” (speech delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing,
October 18, 2017).
69 Brady, China as a Polar Great Power, 137.
70 Ibid., 3.
 Strategic Asia 
worried we may have other intentions, or that we may plunder resources
or damage the environment,” but he claimed that “these kinds of concerns
are absolutely unnecessary.71
China’s ambitions in the Arctic could also complicate its relations
with Russia. China’s entry into the region has been importantly facilitated
by Russia’s acceptance of Chinese investments and provision of Arctic
navigation training (though, as discussed above, Russia was initially wary
of China’s quest for observer status in the Arctic Council). Yet China may
not need a gatekeeper in the region for much longer if Arctic ice continues
to recede. If the NSR is no longer frozen, then Russia may lose its legal
rationale for administering the waterway, potentially leading to tensions
with China and other users hoping to avoid Russian oversight and fees. e
country currently requires a Russian ice pilot to accompany all vessels at the
rate of $673 per day.72
Developing Arctic Transportation and Related Naval Capabilities
As one of the world’s largest shipping powers, China seeks to reduce its
shipping time to the Arctic by developing what Chinese scholars call the “blue
passage.” Using the NSR could reduce shipping times by up to two weeks
from existing routes through chokepoints in the Malacca Strait and the Suez
Canal.73 is makes many Chinese observers optimistic about the prospects
for polar shipping. Aer the rst Chinese commercial ship successfully sailed
through the NSR in August 2013, Yang Huigen, the director of China’s Polar
Research Institute, claimed that anywhere from 5% to 15% of China’s trade
could use the route by 2020.74 Guo Weiping, a scholar at Ocean University of
China, spoke of the northern shipping route as having the potential to “change
the structure of global trade.75 For now, this route is the most plausible, due
to more variable ice conditions, inadequate infrastructure, and the multiple
permissions required for sailing along the Northwest Passage, which spans
71
Oki Nagai, “China and Russia Battle for North Pole Supremacy,” Nikkei Asian Review, April 10, 2018,
https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Asia-Insight/China-and-Russia-battle-for-North-Pole-supremacy.
72
Jeroen F.J. Pruyn, “Will the Northern Sea Route Ever Be a Viable Alternative?” Maritime Policy and
Management 43, no. 6 (2016): 665.
73
Sherri Goodman and Elisabeth Freese, “China’s Ready to Cash In on a Melting Arctic,Foreign Policy,
May 1, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/01/chinas-ready-to-cash-in-on-a-melting-arctic.
74
Trude Pettersen, “First Chinese Merchant Ship on Nort hern Sea Route,Barents Observer, August 12,
2013, https://barentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2013/08/rst-chinese-merchant-ship-northern-sea-
route-12-08.
75
Cited in Kai Sun, “Zhongguo beiji waijiao: Shizhan, liyi yu jinlu” [China’s Arctic Diplomacy: Practice,
Principles, and Ways Forward], Taipingyang xuebao 23, no. 5 (2015): 40; and Linyan Huang, Frédéric
Lasserre, and Olga Alexeeva, “Is China’s Interest for the Arct ic Driven by Arctic Shipping Potential?”
Asian Geographer 32, no. 1 (2015): 61.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
from the Bering Strait to the North Atlantic. But as long as Russia claims the
legal right to administer the NSR, Russian fees and other controls erode the
projected savings. Moreover, the narrow passage through the Bering Strait is
a chokepoint patrolled by U.S. as well as Russian forces.76
Despite more challenging conditions, the Chinese Arctic policy considers
opportunities not just in the Northwest Passage but also along the Transpolar
Sea Route in the event of signicant ice melt there in the long term. e
40% reduction in shipping time experienced by the Canadian ore carrier
Nunavik, which in 2014 sailed from Quebec to northeastern China through
the Northwest Passage rather than the Panama Canal, fueled imaginations
in China. is led the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration, which is
under the Transport Ministry, to release a 365-page guidance in 2016 on
navigation in the Northwest Passage in an eort to promote the route as
weather conditions enable its greater use for trade.77
is requires investments in icebreaker technology and related naval
capabilities. China currently has one ice-resistant ship, the Xue Long (Snow
Dragon), which completed its rst voyage through the NSR in 2012, and
is constructing its rst domestically built icebreaker in cooperation with
Finland. Russian experts note that the Xue Long is a research vessel and would
not be easily adapted to commercial shipping.
Much like northeastern Chinese provinces seized on the Deng
Xiaoping–era concept of special economic zones to promote their regional
interests, scholars from this part of China today view the Arctic route as
a way of becoming involved in and beneting from BRI. us, scholars
from Ocean University of China in Dalian in Liaoning Province argue that
combining the new shipping possibilities in the Arctic with BRI would have
important consequences for the “greater Arctic.78 Nonetheless, Chinese
shipping companies have been as cautious as their Western counterparts,
and shipping along the NSR has thus far proceeded slowly. While exports
of Arctic resources from Russia to China have been increasing gradually,
Russian ships have largely been used. A recent survey of Chinese shipping
companies showed that they were more interested in access to these resources
than in assuming responsibility for shipping due to the high risk and costs
associated with Arctic shipping today.79
76
Marc Lanteigne and Su Ping, “China’s Developing Arctic Policies: Myths and Misconceptions,
Journal of China and International Relations 3, no. 1 (2015): 10.
77
Erica Haun, “China Issues Guidance on Arctic Navigation,” Marine Link, May 10, 2016, http://www.
marinelink.com/news/navigation-guidance409448.aspx.
78
Zhenfu Li, Wenya Wang, and Jing Zhu, “Beiji hanxian zai wo guo ‘Yidai Yilu’ jianshe zhong de
zuoyong yanjiu” [e Study of the Role of the Arctic Route in Belt and Road Construction], Yat ai
Jingji, no. 3 (2015): 36.
79 Huang et al., “Is China’s Interest for the Arctic Driven by Arctic Shipping Potential?” 66.
 Strategic Asia 
Relations with Arctic States
As discussed above, China’s relationship with Russia is central to its
Arctic ambitions, though Russia’s positions on Arctic shipping also set limits
to the Chinese role. As a part of the cooperation between BRI and the EEU,
in 2017 China and Russia pledged to cooperate on developing a Polar Silk
Road. In June 2018 the China Development Bank pledged $9.9 billion in
new nancing for Vnesheconombank to support BRI projects in Russia,
particularly in the Arctic.80 For China to take advantage of shipping
opportunities via the NSR, cooperation with Russia will be essential. Article
234 of UNCLOS allows coastal states to administer and develop ice-covered
waterways. China’s Arctic shipping ambitions became further constrained in
2018 when Russia issued new rules limiting the shipping of energy resources
through the NSR to Russian vessels. As noted earlier, Russian icebreakers
also must accompany foreign ships in the waterway.
us far, Sino-Russian cooperation in the Arctic has involved some
training for Chinese crews in polar navigation, though it was Finland that
teamed up with China to build its rst icebreaker. China’s announcement
of its plans to construct a nuclear icebreaker has raised questions about the
degree to which Russia would cooperate in providing technology, given the
potential military applications—for example, for the creation of the rst
nuclear-powered Chinese aircra carrier.
Russia is the only country with
nuclear-powered ice breakers.81 Chinese ships have already cooperated with
the Russian Navy in a joint sea exercise in the Baltic Sea in 2017, and a visit
by a PLA delegation to Russia’s Northern Fleet in July 2018 led to speculation
about a possible Barents Sea exercise in the near future.82
Although Russia is China’s key partner in the Arctic, Chinese ocials
have sought to improve relations with all the Arctic states. As an observer in
the Arctic Council, China depends on members to put forward its proposals
and will only be able to participate in Arctic resource development in
cooperation with these states. According to a 2014 report, a research institute
aliated with the PLA characterized the Arctic as a potential “lifeline” for
80
Atle Staalesen, “Chinese Bank Invests in Russia’s Northern Sea Route,” Eye on the Arctic, June
12, 2018, http://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2018/06/12/china-russia-arctic-shipping-
infrastructure-northern-sea-route.
81
Minnie Chan, “How China Could Move Closer to Nuclear-Powered Aircra Carriers—with Russia’s
He lp ,” South China Morning Post, June 27, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-
defence/article/2152785/how-china-could-move-closer-nuclear-powered-aircra.
82
omas Nilsen, “Chinese Navy C ommander Talks Cooperation in Severomorsk,Barents Observer,
July 30, 2018, https://thebarentsobs erver.com/en/security/2018/07/chinese-navy-commander-talks-
cooperation-severomorsk.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
the growing Chinese economy and urged greater energy cooperation with
Arctic countries.83
China’s Arctic ambitions have elicited concern among regional states
for two sets of reasons. First, countries like Russia that view Arctic coastal
waterways as subject to their own jurisdiction are apprehensive about China’s
position. Second, most of the Arctic states have signicant resource deposits
or coastal access to such stores and are concerned about the consequences of
China’s investments and economic power in the region. is is particularly
acute for smaller Arctic states such as Iceland, where a large infusion of
Chinese funds might have an outsized political and economic impact.
Sino-U.S. relations in the Arctic have thus far been cooperative. e U.S.
and Chinese coast guards have a history of joint patrols in the northern Pacic
Ocean in support of a UN General Assembly resolution (46/215) prohibiting
drinet shing in the high seas. Beginning in 2015, China joined Japan, South
Korea, and the ve Arctic coastal states in several rounds of negotiations that
culminated in the signing of an agreement in December 2016 prohibiting
shing in the central Arctic Ocean for sixteen years. For China, which has
no vote in the Arctic Council, participating in the negotiation of this sheries
agreement provided a path to participation in Arctic governance as well
as a means to safeguard its future shing interests in the region.84 China
generally supports creating mechanisms to regulate sheries issues on the
basis of UNCLOS, to which it is a signatory, as a way of maintaining its voice
on the issue.85 e Chinese government also cites UNCLOS to side with the
United States on freedom of the seas in the Arctic, despite its more restrictive
denitions of sovereignty on “near seas” in the South China Sea.86 In support
of this, Chinese military vessels sailed near the Aleutian Islands in 2015.
While Canada, which views the Northwest Passage as internal waters,
and Russia, with its assertion of administrative rights over the still ice-covered
NSR, have had some reservations about China playing a greater role in the
Arctic, Nordic countries have largely welcomed its growing interest in the
region. Chinese policy toward these states has involved multilateralism, as
well as bilateral diplomacy and investments under BRI. China has been an
83
“Junkeyuan fashi zhanlüe ping lun baogao: Zhongguo mianlin san da taikong weixie” [Army Research
Institute Released a Strategic Assessment Report: China Faces ree Major Space reats], Sina
Militar y, June 19, 2014, http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2014-06-19/1657785793.html.
84 Min Pan and Henry P. Huntington, “A Precautionary Approach to Fisheries in the Central Arctic
Ocean: Policy, Science, and China,” Marine Policy 63 (2016): 153–57.
85
Nengye Liu, “How Has China Shaped Arctic Fisheries Governance?” Diplomat, June 20, 2018, https://
thediplomat.com/2018/06/how-has-china-shaped-arctic-sheries-governance.
86 Jingchao Peng and Njord Wegge, “China’s Bilateral Diplomacy in the Arctic,Polar Geography 38,
no. 3 (2015): 241; and Vesa Virtanen, “e Arctic in World Politics. e United States, Russia,
and China in the Arctic—Implications for Finland,” Harvard University, Weatherhead Center for
International Aairs, July 17, 2013, 55–56.
 Strategic Asia 
active participant in the annual Arctic Circle Assembly, championed by
Iceland. Prior to unveiling its own Arctic strategy, it regularly sent high-level
delegations to this venue to explain Chinese objectives in the region. In 2013,
when China achieved observer status in the Arctic Council, four Chinese
academic institutes with input into Chinese policymaking on the Arctic (the
Shanghai Institute for International Studies, the Polar Research Institute of
China, Tongji University’s Center for Polar and Oceanic Studies, and Ocean
University of China’s Research Institute of Polar Law and Politics) along
with institutes from six Nordic countries created the China-Nordic Arctic
Research Center to engage in joint research, share information, and hold
annual meetings. In October 2015, three ships from the PLA Navy visited
Finland, Sweden, and Denmark for the rst time.87
More generally, Chinese diplomacy has focused on states with
leadership roles in the Arctic Council, especially the United States (chair
through 2016), Finland (current chair), and Iceland (next chair). Xi visited
Finland in April 2017, aer it had assumed the chairmanship, which was the
rst visit to the country by a Chinese leader since 1995. He then welcomed to
Beijing the prime minister of Norway (now back on China’s good side aer
a lengthy period of tension due to the decision by the Nobel Committee to
honor a Chinese dissident), followed by the prime ministers of Denmark
and Greenland.
Cooperation with Finland is now proceeding on several fronts, including
plans (which also include Russia, Norway, and Japan) for a 6,500-mile
ber-optic cable on the polar seabed, a new freight rail connection to Xi’an,
and a Finnish air hub for ights between Europe and Asia.
88
Iceland was
the rst European country to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with China
and is embarking on a new project to develop geothermal energy in the
country. In addition, Chinese companies have been examining the possibility
of investing in two ports in Iceland, as well as in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and
Kirkenes, Norway.89
Chinese investments in Greenland have been especially controversial
due to its strategic location and domestic pressures for political independence
from Denmark. Chinese companies have been pursuing airport projects in
the infrastructure-poor country, as well as a number of mining opportunities
(especially for uranium, rare earths, lead, and iron). Progress has been slow
87
Shannon Tiezzi, “China’s Nav y Makes First-Ever Tour of Europe’s Arctic States,” Diplomat, October 2,
2015, https://thediplomat.com/2015/10/chinas-navy-makes-rst-ever-tour-of-europes-arctic-states.
88
Ting Shi, “10,000 Kilometers of Fiber-Optic Cable Show China’s Interest in Warming Arctic,
Bloomberg, December 13, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-13/undersea-
cable-project-shows-china-s-interest-in-warming-arctic.
89 James Kynge, “Chinese Purchases of Overseas Ports Top $20bn in Past Year,Financial Times, July
16, 2017, https://www..com/content/e00fcfd4-6883-11e7-8526-7b38dcaef614.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
due to community opposition to uranium mining, political opposition to any
inux of Chinese workers, and the high costs of development. e Danish
government also blocked a puzzling eort by the General Nice Company,
a loss-making iron and mining company, to buy the Grønnedal naval base,
used by the United States during World War II. e Danish military closed
the site in 2014 and then decided to reopen it in 2017 as a strategic and
logistics base.90
While Chinese ocials and analysts have been cautiously avoiding
discussion of Greenland’s political future, Chinas approach to the Nordic
states is in keeping with its general approach to Europe. China has
successfully taken advantage of strains within the EU, as well as dierences
between NATO and non-NATO members and EU and non-EU countries.
According to a 2018 report, it seeks a stable but pliant and fragmented
Europe.91 is strategy is at work in the Arctic as well. As noted above,
China signed its rst FTA in Europe with Iceland, a non-EU state, and has
assiduously courted Finland, a non-NATO country and neighbor of Russia.
e Trump administration’s belligerence toward Europe may make China
an even more attractive partner at a time of heightened EU-Russia tension.
Only Sweden is experiencing diculties with China as a result of protests
over the kidnapping of a Swedish national.
Nonetheless, economic trends and domestic political factors in the Arctic
states will restrict the pace and scope of Chinese investment. For example,
although a development-friendly party achieved a large majority in the April
2018 elections in Greenland, low commodity prices are an obstacle to several
mining projects, including the Citronen Fjord zinc project, owned by the
Australian company Ironbark. China Nonferrous Metals was supposed to
build the mine, most likely with Chinese workers (at least initially), but the
low price of zinc due to a global glut has led to delays.
China is playing a long game in the Arctic, slowly building up its
presence, scientic capacity, and naval capabilities in anticipation of future
economic bounties as the ice recedes. China has had to tread carefully as
an outsider, however “near-Arctic” it claims to be, because even small steps
by Chinese investors could have a big impact on small Arctic states. While
somewhat wary of China’s intentions and protective of its own status as
an Arctic littoral state, Russia has provided an important entry point, via
transit through the NSR and investment opportunities in the Russian Arctic.
90 Jichang Lulu, “China, Greenland and Competition for the Arctic,” Asia Dialogue, January 2, 2017,
http://theasiadialogue.com/2017/01/02/china-greenland-and-competition-for-the-arctic.
91
orsten Benner et al., “Authoritarian Advance: Responding to China’s Growing Political Inuence
in Europe,” Global Public Policy Institute and Mercator Institute for China Studies, February
2018, 6, https://www.merics.org/sites/default/les/2018-02/GPPi_MERICS_Authoritarian_
Advance_2018_1.pdf.
 Strategic Asia 
Nonetheless, China has to balance its aspirations with the need to be mindful
of Russian sensitivities on Arctic issues.
Conclusion
Implications for Chinas Great-Power Ambitions
When we typically think of China’s rise as a great power we consider
its role on the global stage, not its behavior on the peripheries. However,
China’s ambitions in the partnership with Russia and in the Arctic have a lot
to say about its global aspirations. e Sino-Russian partnership has proved
to be an important testing ground for Chinese foreign policy conceptions,
and together the two countries have sought to challenge the United States in
Asia and the Western order more broadly. For example, the new concept of
great-power relations, typically ascribed to Xi’s view of U.S.-China relations,
was rst discussed in the context of Sino-Russian relations.
While not operating in lockstep on all questions, China and Russia oen
act in parallel in ways that complicate U.S. foreign policy. Together they have
sought to put their own imprimatur on global governance, advancing joint
initiatives at the United Nations in support of information sovereignty and
in opposition to the broad application of human rights norms such as the
responsibility to protect. ey have projected their own “sharp power” to take
advantage of the vulnerabilities of open democracies and expand their own
inuence at the expense of democratic norms. As James Steinberg argues,
the Sino-Russian partnership presents a greater challenge than the sum of
their joint capabilities in that it emboldens the two countries to challenge
Western interests and legitimates the existence of what Richard Ellings and
Robert Sutter have termed a new “authoritarian axis” confronting the West.
92
Nonetheless, dierences between the two partners are sucient to serve
as a constraint to Chinese regional ambitions, even as Russia supports them
globally. e military wherewithal that China has obtained over the years from
Russia has enabled China to expand its reach well beyond its borders, but in
the interest of maintaining the partnership with Russia, Xi will need to limit
his ambitions in areas of key concern to Putin, such as Central Asia and the
Arctic. Even in Asia, Russia has provided at best only qualied support and
has traditionally developed relations with China’s regional opponents, such as
India and Vietnam. Countries that are uneasy about China’s expanding reach,
92 James B. Steinberg, “China-Russia Cooperation: How Should the United States Respond?” in Axis
of Authoritarians: Implications of China-Russia Cooperation, ed. Richard J. Ellings and Robert Sutter
(Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research [NBR], 2018), 160–61; and Ellings and Sutter, eds., Axis
of Authoritarians.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
such as Myanmar and Malaysia, have also been expanding their relations
with Russia.
e partnership with Russia has enabled China to reduce its own
vulnerabilities. anks to Russia, China has been able to modernize its
military, especially in the 1990s, a time when international sanctions
prevented it from purchasing weapons from most other countries. Although
China increasingly produces a growing share of its own military technology,
it continues to depend on Russia for key systems that are important for its
goals vis-à-vis Taiwan and the South China Sea.
A broader limitation involves the diering conceptions of economic
integration in the two countries, with Russia turning inward with the EEU,
and China looking outward with BRI. While Xi has been mindful of Russian
sensitivities, choosing to include Russia within the initiative (aer initially
circumventing it) and then seeking to nd some modus vivendi between BRI
and the EEU, China will still need to tread carefully on Russias peripheries.
is has been true of the Russian Far East as well, where China hoped to
encourage regional integration, while Russia has sought to limit Chinese
inroads, even to its own detriment.
For China, the Arctic is a promised land of untapped resources and an
opportunity to exert its inuence in global governance, yet these benets are
largely promised to insiders. However loudly China proclaims itself to be
a near-Arctic state, it nonetheless has to demonstrate its presence through
economic, scientic, and political activities. ese same activities raise
concerns among Arctic states about China’s intentions and willingness to
accept the status quo, which for Russia means the authority to administer
currently ice-covered waterways. e Arctic is not a static environment,
however, and its melting ice will have profound political consequences as
well as environmental ones.
For Xi, the Arctic and polar regions more broadly are the testing grounds
for his global ambitions, both as a maritime power and as a participant in
the development of new forms of global governance. Two of Xi’s landmark
concepts, used at the 19th Party Congress and now inscribed in the Chinese
Communist Party’s constitution, have been applied to the Arctic. China has
sought to justify its role in the Arctic in order to contribute to the “shared
future of mankind.” Xi also endeavored to enlist Putin’s cooperation with
China’s Arctic agenda by promising to build a joint polar Silk Road, thereby
creating an Arctic route in his signature Belt and Road Initiative.
When viewed together, China’s Russia policy and its Arctic strategy reveal
a quest for great-power status that is more than just an eort to improve and
enhance Chinese capabilities. What these two policy areas have in common
 Strategic Asia 
is that they show that for China to be a global player means to have a voice
in global governance.
Implications for the United States
Where the Sino-Russian partnership has succeeded mostly on the global
level, and to a lesser extent in Europe and Asia, is in projecting a sense of
common purpose and parallelism of action, which contrasts greatly with the
fractious behavior of the United States in particular and Western countries
as a whole. U.S. ocials have struggled to make sense of the Sino-Russian
partnership, and U.S. policy has tended to vacillate between two extreme
positions. One view, expressed in the Trump administration’s National
Security Strategy, sees the United States pitted against a Sino-Russian bloc,
whereas the other downplays the challenge of the Sino-Russian partnership
because of dierences between the two countries. Proponents of the rst
view argue that because the partnership is strengthening, the United States
needs to counter it, and the only solution is to build up U.S. strength to
counter this resurrected axis. A greater show of U.S. military might, they
contend, would both deter and weaken Sino-Russian eorts to weaken
U.S. positions. By contrast, others argue that Sino-Russian relations are a
marriage of convenience, with more appearance of congruence than reality
due to unabated historical dierences and Russia’s inferior economic position.
Members of this group disagree over which country poses the greater threat
to U.S. interests and seek to exert leverage over the more threatening state by
accommodating the other.93
Neither of these approaches is likely to bear fruit, however, and both
are rooted in past conceptions of world order that no longer apply (i.e.,
Cold War–era bipolarity and U.S. primacy of the 1990s). e Sino-Russian
partnership is not a result of U.S. policies or policy failures but of their
own shared interests and values. us, eorts to weaken the partnership by
sanctions on Chinese military entities that purchase Russian weapons are
unlikely to lead to any change in Sino-Russian military cooperation.
e question is oen posed whether the United States should tilt toward
Russia or China in an eort to weaken their partnership.
94
ose experts who
see a greater threat from China urge greater accommodation of Russia, while
those who focus on the benets of an improved Sino-U.S. relationship argue
for greater accommodation there. Nonetheless, such maneuvering by the
West is unlikely to alter the domestic drivers of the Sino-Russian partnership,
93
Robert Sutter, “China-Russia Relations: Strategic Implications and U.S. Policy Options,” NBR, NBR
Special Report, no. 73, September 2018, 17–19.
94 Ibid.
Wishnick – Russia and the Arctic 
which reect enduring national interests and shared identities and are largely
unrelated to U.S. policy choices.
For the Trump administration, the solution has been to refocus
on building U.S. strength and confronting both China and Russia
simultaneously. While there may be merit to enhancing U.S. capabilities
where they are lacking and pushing back against various Chinese and
Russian actions that challenge U.S. interests, there is little sense of priority
or understanding of the need to pursue the shared interests that the
United States nonetheless has with states it considers its opponents, not to
mention its allies. e underlying problem for current U.S. policy is a lack
of coordination with allies and engagement with multilateral institutions.
is is all the more important at a time when the international community
faces an increasing number of transnational threats and challenges from
nonstate actors that defy state-centric logics.
China has become more involved with multilateral economic
institutions of its own creation, though primarily it has been using funding
from BRI and state institutions to deepen bilateral economic partnerships,
largely at the expense of regional political unity and economic transparency.
Here the United States needs to encourage China to work within existing
multilateral governance structures and prevent its money diplomacy from
lling governance gaps. To counteract this trend in the Arctic, Mark Rosen
and Cara uringer have proposed the development of a code of conduct
to govern investment in the Arctic and the creation of a multilateral
Arctic Development Bank, patterned on the European Investment Bank.95
China has aptly capitalized on the need in the Arctic for infrastructure
investments, and a regional framework, led by Arctic states, would ensure
that development proceeds in a transparent way and in the interests of the
sustainable development of the Arctic states rather than to the primary
benet of outside investors.
In the Arctic, a focus on building U.S. capabilities, not just icebreakers
but also transportation and communications infrastructure, should
accompany an equal eort to engage with allies, participate in multilateral
institutions, and develop new approaches to governance as climate change
brings about new challenges in the region. e ratication of UNCLOS
would also enable the United States to defend its sovereignty and give it
greater credibility in meeting challenges elsewhere, such as China’s position
on the South China Sea.
As in the response to the Sino-Russian partnership, the alliances and
institutions that the United States has developed in the last half century
95
Mark E. Rosen and Cara B. uringer, “Unconstrained Foreign Direct Investment: An Emerging
Challenge to Arctic Security,” CNA, November 2017, 62–65.
 Strategic Asia 
are sources of strength that China lacks in the Arctic and globally. Despite
China’s great-power aspirations and growing capabilities, it faces a lonely
struggle to become a global power, with only Russia at its side, and then
sometimes only agreeing to disagree. With a greater focus on collaborating
with allies and providing leadership in global and regional multilateral
institutions, the United States would be in a much stronger position to
address the challenges that China will pose, both with Russia and in the
Arctic, as it pursues its quest for great-power status.
... China already styles itself as a "near-Arctic state" and is intent on writing the rules that govern the Arctic (Brady 2017;China 2018;Wong 2018). Beijing is investing heavily in promoting these developments while also appreciating that it must currently work with Russia and within Moscow's strategic goals to achieve its own aims (Wishnick 2019). Whereas Russia's entire northern coast adjoins the Arctic Ocean, since 2018, China has striven to make good on its claim to be an Arctic military and commercial power by substantial investments in icebreakers and nuclear-powered submarines that can patrol the Arctic and increasing intercontinental trade through the Arctic (ibid.). ...
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China in the Arctic: Arctic Silk Road Due to global climate change, melting of pack ice and fast ice has been accelerated in the Arctic. It is estimated that the region will be free of ice during the summers in the future. As this change will create new economic and commercial opportunities in the region, some non-Arctic countries but observer members of the Arctic Council have revealed their Arctic policy papers in order to benefit from these potential opportunities. Although People’s Republic of China (China) is not an Arctic country, she is keenly engaging in the region and does not only concentrates its investments and scientific researches in the Arctic but also strengthens its bilateral relations with many Arctic countries. China revealed its Arctic policy paper, which is called Arctic Silk Road in 2018. The aim of this article is to explore and explain the reasons of China’s Arctic engagement and expectations from the region and discuss whether these expectations can be achieved. The paper firstly outlines geographic and legislative features of the Arctic. Then, it touches the Spitsbergen Treaty and administration of Svalbard Archipelago. The following section delineates constituents of the China’s Arctic policy and discusses what China wants from the Arctic and why. Subsequently, the reactions of Arctic countries to Arctic Silk Road are overviewed. In the light of the complicated legislative, administrative and geopolitics features of the region and reactions of Arctic countries, the final section discusses if the Chinese ambitions are realistic and achievable. Certainly, economic and commercial interests are the main elements, which attract China to the region. However, in an international political economy context, the main assertion of the article is that Arctic Silk Road is a new manifestation of China’s active foreign policy employed in the last two decades and its desire for being a leader, a rule designer country in the world. Furthermore, the Arctic region is now being a competition arena among the USA, China and Russia. Hence, the future of the region and position of China in the Arctic will be essentially determined by outcomes of this competition. Keywords: China, Arctic, Arctic Silk Road, Belt and Road Initiative, Svalbard.
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