In 2011, the Council clarified its criteria for admission of observers, most notably including a requirement of applicants to "recognize Arctic States' sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic" and "recognize that an extensive legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean including, notably, the Law of the Sea, and that this framework provides a solid foundation for responsible management of this ocean".[5]


If observer states need to recognize that the Arctic states have jurisdiction over the Arctic and its natural resources, what exactly does China have to gain from joining the Arctic Council as an observer state? I am guessing there's geopolitics involved, but if China cannot pry away territory from Arctic states, what is there to be done? I understand that the Arctic offers an interesting trade route for China, but does it really need to join the Arctic Council to defend its best interest in the region?

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    Can't give you a definitive answer, but a number of countries jointed at the same time: China, 2013 India, 2013 Italy, 2013 Japan, 2013 South Korea, 2013 Singapore, 2013. So, if Japan, SK, India were let in that probably explains China too. IDK which of these applied first. Commented Feb 16 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


China definitely has interests in the area

The [Chinese and Russian] ships broke no rules and violated no boundaries. But their appearance so close to the Arctic this past fall raised concern in Washington nonetheless. For years, China has worked to establish footholds in the region that would give it access to rich mineral deposits and shipping lanes, as well as a greater say in Arctic affairs. That—and a strategic presence in a region ringed by the United States and several other NATO countries.

China also considers itself an Arctic state, despite it's geographic location

China has declared itself a “near-Arctic state,” a designation it invented to push for a greater role in Arctic governance. It has dispatched research expeditions, sought to establish mining and gas operations, and envisioned a network of shipping routes crossing the Arctic, a “silk road on ice.” It describes itself as an “active participant, builder, and contributor in Arctic affairs,” one that has “spared no efforts to contribute its wisdom to the development of the Arctic region.”

But in the Arctic, as in the rest of the world, the United States sees China as a potentially destabilizing force, with the economic and military power to try to bend the established order to its liking. The Pentagon considers China its “pacing challenge” of the foreseeable future. Its Arctic strategy, released in October, pays particular attention to the risk of China using commercial or scientific access to the Arctic for military advantage.

Remember that China is also carrying out its Belt and Road Initiative, where it is clearly trying to project its power far beyond its borders. The Arctic is one of those areas where strategic interests can be pursued with less complications (as no one country controls the area). Joining this council lets them play it cool with participants, while making it known that they are serious about having interests the region.

  • Why is declaring oneself a “near-Arctic country” synonymous with considering oneself an “Arctic country”?
    – yamakaze
    Commented Feb 19 at 4:09

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