On the heels of Facebook’s move to the Arctic Circle, and even though all of the ice has yet to thaw, the resource race has already heated up in the region. The Arctic is thought to hold more than 10 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas reserves, and large mineral deposits. Most known resources lie within countries’ exclusive economic zones, an area 200 nautical miles within their coastlines. However, only Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States officially border the Arctic. Currently, approximately four million people live north of the Arctic Circle, including indigenous people, and territorial disputes are now commonplace.
Enter China. This week, Denmark, which borders the Arctic from Greenland, began a partnership with China, calling for its position there to be one of a “permanent observer” in the Arctic Council.
The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 formally established the Arctic Council as a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Arctic Council Member States are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States.
China has “natural and legitimate economic and scientific interests in the Arctic”, Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen told a group of journalists, adding that Denmark and other nations welcome China as a permanent observer in the Arctic Council. “The Danish government would like to see China as a permanent observer, and I think the others [members] are likewise willing to do that,” he said.
It was recently reported that China has already planned three Arctic research expeditions from through 2015. The race is on.