Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, has said that the organization is carefully monitoring China’s growing presence in the Arctic. Beijing has been investing heavily in the region, as it contains huge reserves of oil, gas, and other mineral deposits.
In an interview with CNBC, Stoltenberg said that NATO has to assess the military consequences of a rising China, including how it will threaten the security of the global system. In another interview, he expressed concerns over China gaining a foothold in Europe and the Arctic.
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“This is not about moving NATO into the Pacific, but this is about responding to the fact that China is coming closer to us… Investing heavily in critical infrastructure in Europe, increased presence in the Arctic, and also increased presence in Africa, and in cyberspace… So all of this makes it important for NATO to address the rise of China,” Stoltenberg said to Reuters.
In recent times, China has been investing in areas close to the Arctic. For instance, Beijing is building research centers in Norway and buying up naval facilities in Greenland. These moves are aimed at developing China’s “Polar Silk Road,” which will give the Asian nation a distinct advantage over other countries in international shipping. To counter China’s growing presence in the Arctic, the U.S. has been strengthening relations with the Arctic Council, a group of eight nations that border the polar region.
Of particular interest to the U.S. has been Greenland, which many experts believe will play a key role in international politics as nations scramble to gain influence in the Arctic. The U.S. once maintained a consulate in Greenland, which was closed in 1953. The Trump administration has appointed a foreign service officer to the island. Last year, the Chinese offered to build three international airports in Greenland. However, the government of Greenland rejected the offer after the U.S. promised to invest.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that China’s presence in the Arctic would bring large-scale ecological destruction to the region. Back in 2018, China named itself a “near-Arctic state.” Pompeo found it amusing and declared that China had no claim in the area. “Beijing claims to be a near-Arctic state, yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic Circle is 900 miles… There are only Arctic states and non-Arctic States. No third category exists — and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing,” he said in a statement (Bloomberg).
China will soon be launching its first homemade icebreaker to the Antarctic region sometime this year. The vessel, called Snow Dragon 2, weighs 13,996 tons and will reportedly conduct studies of chemical and physical oceanography, as well as maritime biological diversity, during its upcoming mission to the South Pole. Some believe that the Snow Dragon 2 could enable China to build its own nuclear-powered heavy icebreaker.
China has already established four research stations in Antarctica and is building another one at Terra Nova Bay. The growing number of icebreakers and research stations will solidify China’s influence in the icy region. The Snow Dragon 2 is said to be capable of carrying a total of 99 people and up to two helicopters. The vessel can break through ice that has a thickness of up to 5 feet, and it is equipped with a power system that can sustain expeditions for up to 60 days.