China’s New Arctic Strategem: A Strategic Buyer’s Approach to the Arctic

Timothy Curtis Wright


Since China does not border on the Arctic, it has used alternative approaches to gain access to the region. This paper argues that China has gained a foothold and demonstrated its energy interests in the Arctic by using a strategic buyers approach. China’s SOEs have purchased, invested in, and participated in joint ventures with Arctic-related companies such as Northern Cross and Rosneft. Chinese academics and officials are aware that the Arctic is melting and realize the region’s potential wealth. They are also aware that tapping into the Arctic’s resources, especially through Russia, may soon become the most efficient method for securing China’s energy needs.

China’s Arctic approach can be summarized as having consisted of two phases: the rhetoric and culmination of ideas phase and the strategic buyer phase. Regarding the first phase, Chinese scholarly writings, media reports, diplomatic rhetoric, and PLA comments provided a spotlight on, and created an awareness of, China’s interests in the Arctic. These groups fostered important Chinese ideas and debates on how China should approach Arctic issues. The second phase (which we are currently in) has shown that China has made Arctic purchases, investments, and joint ventures with Russia, Canada, and Iceland and also seems to be on the verge of obtaining something more concrete with Greenland in the not-too-distant future. This has made China’s Arctic strategy more apparent and helped differentiate noise from true courses of action. China’s current Arctic moves and approaches over the past several months have made the PRC’s Arctic strategy much less opaque and increasingly more visible and coherent.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.