China has newly-built Polar-capable cargo ships, liquefied natural gas tankers and nuclear-powered icebreakers to patrol and navigate in the Arctic. All of these ships are factors cited in a new U.S. Navy strategy report on growing military dynamics and tensions in the Arctic, a fast-changing region now urgently commanding attention as ice continues to melt at an alarming pace, opening up new waterways and sparking intensified competition for strategic advantage among rival global powers.
Major global powers, including Russia and China, are increasingly vying for influence, access to resources and geographically significant strategic advantage in the Arctic, one of many reasons why the U.S. Navy’s just released “Blue Arctic” document makes a specific point to cite Chinese investments and initiatives related to the region.
“The People’s Republic of China views the Arctic Region as a critical link in its One Belt One Road initiative. A combination of Chinese capital, technology, and experience has the potential to influence Arctic shipping routes and undermine the economic and social progress of peoples and nations along these routes,” the Navy report states.
The pace of melting ice is quickly inspiring many great powers to rethink or re-adjust their planned timetables for increasing military and strategic operations in the Arctic region, because new, previously non-existent waterways are introducing new opportunities for countries seeking to expand missions in the area. While Russia’s interest in the Arctic, particularly given its access and proximity regarding the Northern Sea Route border areas, is well understood, China’s Arctic ambitions, while perhaps less visible, do not appear to be any less significant. The tactical advantages of having an Arctic operational capability are numerous, as it would afford rapid attack or surveillance access to many parts of the world much more easily, particularly for China given that it does not have areas closely bordering the Arctic like Russia or the America’s Alaska.
“China’s investments, global fishing fleet, and scientific, economic, and academic linkages to the people and institutions of Arctic nations, including joint ventures with Russia, will likely continue to rise in the decades ahead. We also expect increased Chinese Navy deployments,” the Navy “Blue Arctic” report states.
China also appears to be preparing for ice warfare in the Arctic by flying carrier-based J-15 fighter jets in free-air combat drills as temperature below -20C, a training move which indicates the country’s growing interest in exerting influence in the region.
Citing a China Central Television report, a report in the Chinese Global Times writes that the People’s Liberation Army-Navy conducted “confrontational exercises in combat scenarios” with J-15s in subzero temperatures in the Bohai Sea.
“In an air combat session, two fighter jets of the red team completed a series of tactical moves including fake attack, breakaway, intercept, lock on and attack, successfully shooting down aircraft of the blue team that had been aggressively attacking,” the paper said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.