Time is not on the side of the United States. One thing is very clear from looking at Chinese FDI patterns, and its most recent policy, is that China has an “all of government” approach to the Arctic that fully aligns its government and commercial actors. China is not content to be a passive investor in the Arctic. Policymakers in the United States and other Arctic States need to ask themselves whether they are comfortable with China’s policy vision given recent events in South China Sea where the PRC chose to disregard UNCLOS and essentially appropriate the waters of the South China Sea and coerce the Philippines and Vietnam to surrender (for the time being) their sovereign rights in their EEZ and Continental Shelf. It is not hard to imagine that China would, if unchecked, try to leverage its rights to conduct research and some mining on Svalbard Island into a legal entitlement to establish a large “research station” replete with military facilities and personnel as they have done in the South China Sea. The key in preventing this from happening—over time—is for the Arctic countries to examine Chinese FDI practices and policies for what they truly are and to establish regional ground rules on how far that China, and for that matter other states, can participate in regional governance and the management of sovereign resources.
Mark E. Rosen is the SVP and general counsel for CNA and is an international lawyer with a specialty in the maritime area. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author alone and may not represent the views of CNA or any of its sponsors.