Russia, China Need To Boost Coordination In Arctic Region To Handle Possible US Hostility


Russia, China Need to Boost Coordination in Arctic Region to Handle Possible US Hostility

Russia and China have to improve coordination with each other on strategies and policies related to the Arctic region to prepare for the prospects of growing hostility from the United States, after US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo signaled the country's new "strategic engagement" policy in the region earlier this week, experts told Sputnik

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 10th May, 2019) Russia and China have to improve coordination with each other on strategies and policies related to the Arctic region to prepare for the prospects of growing hostility from the United States, after US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo signaled the country's new "strategic engagement" policy in the region earlier this week, experts told Sputnik.

During his speech titled "Looking North: Sharpening America's Arctic Focus" before a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland on Monday, Pompeo laid out the Trump administration's renewed focus in the Arctic region.

"We're entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to the Arctic and its real estate, and to all of our interests in that region," he said.

The top US diplomat went on to accuse Russia of acting aggressively in the region.

"We're concerned about Russia's claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China's Maritime Silk Road. In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with their demands. These provocative actions are part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behavior here in the Arctic," he said.

Pompeo also warned about similar clashes with China as both countries are engaging in the South China Sea.

"Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies, and Chinese workers - in some cases, to establish a permanent Chinese security presence ... China's pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere in the - excuse me - aggressive behavior elsewhere should inform what we do and how it might treat the Arctic ... Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?" he said.


Chinese scholars specializing in Arctic issues suggested growing hostility from the United States was a good reminder on how important it is for Russia and China to work closely with each other and coordination their policies and efforts in the Arctic region.

"Russia and China need to coordinate with each other closely [in the Arctic region] and it would help [both nations] take an upper hand in the international community. Giving up or reducing coordination with China would hurt Russia's interest. I want to remind my Russian colleagues to keep a clear mind on this issue," Guo Peiqing, executive director of the Institute of Polar Law and Policy at the Ocean University of China, told Sputnik.

As Pompeo's hawkish speech singled out both Russia and China as major competitors in the Arctic region, the United States could initiate its signature "freedom of navigation" operations in the region in the summer, Guo predicated.

"I believe it's very likely for the United States to conduct 'freedom of navigation' operations in the coming summer in the Arctic region. I think our Russian colleagues need to get ready for such operations in the region, as US warships could sail into the region without advance notification," he said.

Amid heightened tension in the South China Sea, US warships conducted "freedom of navigation" operations in the area in recent years to challenge Beijing's territorial claims over disputed islands.

In June 2017, the Russian government announced that it had proposed to introduce a number of legislative amendments that would give vessels sailing under the Russian flag the exclusive right to transport and store raw hydrocarbons and coal loaded on vessels along the Northern Sea Route.

Nevertheless, other scholars focused on Arctic issues pointed out the different roles Russia and China would play in the Arctic region.

"Obviously there is difference between China and Russia as Russia is half of the Arctic and China is a non-Arctic state, or a near Arctic state as it calls itself in its 2018 first ever policy paper. China is a relative newcomer to the region, and focuses on especially science, and economic activities. It is now an observer to the Arctic Council, but influences Arctic governance also from being party to many international conventions that are important in the Arctic, such as those which aim to curtail the production and emission of persistent organic pollutants that end up in the Arctic," Timo Koivurova, director of the Arctic Centre under the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland told Sputnik.

During his speech in Rovaniemi, Finland, Pompeo detailed Russia's increasing military presence in the Arctic region.

"Russia is already leaving snow prints in the form of army boots. Russia formally announced its intent to increase its military presence in the region in 2014, when it re-opened a Cold War Arctic military base. Since then, thanks in part to its large icebreaker fleet, Russia has been able to renovate old bases and infrastructure. It claims to have built 475 new military sites, including bases north of the Arctic Circle, as well as 16 new deep-water ports. It secures this presence through sophisticated new air defense systems and anti-ship missiles," he said.

Professor Koivurova from the Finland-based Arctic Centre explained that Russia's growing military presence in the Arctic region served the country's national security needs and did not disrupt relations with its Nordic neighbors.

"That Russia has increased its military presence (also) in the arctic has given some concern also among its Nordic neighbors, especially after the Ukraine controversy and the sanctions regime. Overall, the relations are good, since if anywhere in the Arctic, Russia has behaved in responsible and co-operative manner. The increased military presence in the arctic is related to its overall restoration of its military forces around the vast country, but also due to the requirements of search and rescue in such inhospitable environment," he said.

Other Finish scholars suggested Nordic countries need to focus on maintaining geopolitical stability in the region.

"What the small Nordic countries can do, if there will be, again, great power rivalry in the Arctic, is first to remember the learned lessons from the Cold War period, when the Arctic was a 'military theater.' Second, to continue the confidence-building measures based on the high geopolitical stability, and try to act as middlemen between the great powers. Third, to strengthen the Nordic - much functional - cooperation on fields, such as environmental protection, climate change, scientific & research cooperation, education," Lassi Heininen, professor of Arctic politics in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, told Sputnik.

The expert stressed that all interested actors in the Arctic region need to rely on international cooperation and international agreements to take care of and protect the Arctic ecosystem, as well as to do research there.