Wolverine Mine ©Yukon Government, 2021
Geographic Location: 60° 10' 17'' North , 133° 54' 37'' West
In recent years China has expressed a growing interest in the Circumpolar North with the aspiration of becoming a “polar great power” by 2030 (Doshi et al. 2021) This ambition has gained international attention as China has “sent high-level figures to the region 33 times in the past two decades, engaged or joined most major Arctic institutions, sought a half dozen scientific facilities in Arctic states, pursued a range of plausibly dual-use economic projects, expanded its icebreaker fleet, and even sent its naval vessels into the region”. (Doshi et al. 2021) Indeed, China is highly interested in the extraction of resources as the Arctic opens up as a new frontier for exploitation. Furthermore, military interests also seem to be a top priority. China has built various heavy icebreakers and is looking at developing state of the art equipment to gain advantage and power in Arctic regions. “Chinese companies have also sought to purchase an old naval base in Greenland; to build three airports in Greenland; to build Scandinavia’s largest port in Sweden; to acquire (successfully) a Swedish submarine base to link Finland and the wider Arctic to China through rail; and to do the same with a major port and railway in Arkhangelsk in Russia”. (Doshi et al. 2021) Clearly, China’s interests in the Arctic are widespread and ambitions of gaining power and economic influence in the region are aggressive.
Beyond some successes in the beginning stages of developing relationships with Northern governments, growing criticism by the Arctic 8 countries has led to much skepticism and pushback on any collaboration in the Arctic region. In January 2018, China published the Arctic White Paper which defines China’s policy goals in the region. The White Paper “defines China as a “near-Arctic state” which has legitimate rights in the region- and argues that Arctic states should respect these rights including the right to conduct scientific research, navigate, perform flyovers, fish, lay submarine cables and pipelines, and even explore and exploit natural resources in the Arctic high seas”. (Kopra, 2020) China was granted observer status at the Arctic Council in 2013 by the Arctic states due to their extensive efforts over the past decade, but has since gained the reputation of having a “globalist vision of the Arctic”. (Kopra, 2020)
One specific example is China’s involvement in the mining industry in Canada including the purchase of a zinc, a nickel and an iron mine. The first investment in mining in Canada was at a zinc mine in the Yukon by Jinduicheng Molybdenum Group (JDC) which “ended disastrously with the mine losing $100 million, the refusal to clean up the mine, leaving behind an environmental disaster that will cost more than $35 million to clean up”. (Doshi et al. 2021) Experiences of collaboration with other Arctic 8 countries have also soured as the Chinese have demonstrated coercive behaviours through threats and attempts at suing Arctic governments. The scenario in the Yukon is unfortunately a complex matter as the environmental disaster doesn’t seem to concern Chinese officials as they place the blame on Canada and the Yukon claiming “the Canadian provinces did not disclose the full picture about the mining environment, namely the risks and challenges, and that this led to misinformed decisions” also complaining that “they were unable to bring Chinese labourers to Canada and were relying on Canadian labour”. (Doshi et al. 2021) With the Yukon being a self-governing territory, the capacity to respond to such a powerful entity is complex and therefore minimal. According to one source, “Devolution meant gaining authority over mining mishaps authorized by the Yukon Government” versus “JDC has the biggest open mic mine in Asia with a reserve life of more than a hundred years. JDC is a publicly traded state owned enterprise with strong support from both Chinese state and provincial governments”. (Halliday, 2020) In this scenario, it is clear that the governance of the circumpolar north with various governance structures, devolution or even Indigenous or regional autonomous governments as players in decision-making and stewardship responsibilities, need to remain united and informed of geopolitics to effectively protect and sustain the Circumpolar North.
I chose China’s interests in the circumpolar north as my topic since I recently listened to a podcast on this subject. I was blown away by some of the examples of threats and interactions with the Arctic 8 countries that are highlighted in the report by Doshi et al. and also learning about the environmental disaster that resulted here in the Yukon at the Wolverine Mine. I think this example shows a devastating example of exploitation of an environment where outside interests are primarily focused on capital gain. It is absolutely frustrating to hear that these Chinese officials have basically wiped their hands clean and walked away from destroying pristine wilderness that the Arctic flora and fauna rely on and for the Yukon government to clean up. I don’t agree that this should be allowed and I am pleased to hear that there’s pushback on any further collaboration.
Doshi, Rush, et al. “Northern Expedition: China's Arctic Activities and Ambitions .” Brookings, Brookings Edu, Apr. 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/FP_20210412_china_arctic.pdf. (Primary Document)
Halliday, Keith. “Yukonomist: Three Questions on Yukon Zinc and China.” Yukon News, Yukon News, 20 Feb. 2020, https://www.yukon-news.com/opinion/yukonomist-three-questions-on-yukon-zinc-and-china/. (Secondary Literature)
Kopra, Sanna, and Sanna Kopra. “China and Its Arctic Trajectories: The Arctic Institute's China Series 2020.” The Arctic Institute, The Arctic Institute, 1 Sept. 2021, https://www.thearcticinstitute.org/china-arctic-trajectories-the-arctic-institute-china-series-2020/. (Tertiary Literature)