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China in the Arctic: geoeconomic competition and the transformation of the Arctic Council

Authors: Merje Kuus*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Europe
Keywords: geopolitics, geoeconomics, diplomacy, Arctic.
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper investigates the shifting geopolitics of the Arctic Council. I examine the intersections of two ongoing tensions in Arctic diplomacy. The first is the tension between old-timers and newcomers in Arctic governance. The old-timers include primarily Arctic states, as only they have full membership in the Arctic Council, the principal international governance body in the Arctic. The newcomers include other diplomatic actors, including other states as well as international or transnational institutions, such as the European Union, who seek to increase their influence in the Arctic Council. The second tension unfolds between Arctic states on the one hand and the various non-state actors, such as indigenous peoples, environmental NGOs, and private companies who all want to increase their say in Arctic governance. These tensions are underpinned by broader geopolitical and geoeconomic narratives about economic and environmental connectivity, the rise of China, and transnational political action.
The paper uses China’s efforts to develop shipping routes in the Arctic as the empirical lens through which to examine these issues. Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China is seeking to better connect itself to other economic centers and especially Europe through infrastructure links. Shipping routes through the Russian Arctic are an integral part of the process. It is shipping that makes China into an active diplomatic actor in the Arctic. This example thus illuminates the mutual constitution of geopolitical and geoeconomic strategies.

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