China Seeks Foothold in Arctic Group As Competition Heats Up for Region’s Resources

Photo Credit: State DepartmentChina is one of several countries hoping to obtain a foothold in a grouping of nations with territory lying within the Arctic Circle, a resource-rich area of fast-growing economic and strategic significance.

Beijing’s application for observer status at the Arctic Council, which meets in northern Sweden on Wednesday, requires the approval of all eight current members of the intergovernmental body, and some analysts are urging the United States to block it, pointing to China’s territorial disputes with neighboring countries and some of its policies at home.

The rising importance of the Arctic lies in its huge oil and gas potential, and experts predict virtually ice-free summers in the coming decades, making the region more accessible and navigable, and triggering concerns about potential harm to sensitive ecosystems.

A much-cited U.S. Geological Survey study in 2008 found that “the Arctic accounts for about 13 percent of the undiscovered oil, 30 percent of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20 percent of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world.”

Geopolitical competition among Arctic nations has been heating up in recent years, and a Russian security strategy released in 2009 warned of the possibility of military conflict over the region’s resources.

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