Why China Wants In on the Arctic

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Why China wanted to be admitted into the Arctic council.

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China isn't the first country you typically think of when discussing Arctic matters, but they've just been admitted to the Arctic Council on an observer basis and will now have a seat at the table when Canada, the U.S., Russia and the Nordic countries set about wrangling over Arctic policy.

According to Gwynn Guilford, China wants in on Arctic issues less because of the region's reputed storehouse of hydrocarbons (an estimated 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits) but because of its fisheries:

The ”new fishing grounds” will become “the world’s largest storehouse of biological protein,” wrote Tang Guoqiang, China’s former ambassador to Norway, in a recent paper.

As we recently discussed, fishing is a big business for China, so much so that it’s raiding the territorial waters of other countries. Arctic nations are currently mulling an accord to prevent fishing in the open water above the Bering Strait until scientists can assess fish stocks. The objective would be to manage commercial fishing, not to protect the fish habitat, noted the New York Times.

But China isn't alone. India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were also admitted as observers into the Arctic Council. The Council itself has only limited powers -- they're able to issue non-binding protocols on member states. Still, as Arctic ice recedes, the Council is viewed as a key vehicle for hashing out the not-inconsiderable strategic stakes.

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