Squaring the Arctic Circle

By Mei Xinyu
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, May 23, 2013
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Being the biggest exporter and second largest importer - as well as leading importer of mineral resources - China has given special importance to opening new shipping routes and importing mineral resources because of the threats posed by climate change. And since China is expected to be one of the most frequent users of the shipping routes and a leading resource developer in the Arctic region, it deserves to be part of the decision-making process.

The Arctic, as is well known, greatly influences the world's weather and climate patterns. And therein lies its importance for China. As a land prone to natural disasters, China suffered the devastating effects of famine that led to the death of tens of millions of people from the 1920s to the 1940s. A drought that ravaged the provinces in the Yellow River basin in 1929 claimed the lives of more than 34 million people. According to John Leighton Stuart, US ambassador to China from 1946 to 1949, between 3 and 7 million Chinese perished in famines before 1949.

History teaches us to prepare for natural calamities, and increasing our inputs in research on the Arctic is part of that preparation. Therefore, the international community has no reason to stop a country with one-fifth of the world's population from conducting scientific research for every human's benefit.

Even though resource development in the Arctic circle seems a lucrative proposition - and a US Geological Survey in 2008 says the region has 22 percent of the world's undiscovered but exploitable crude oil and natural gas reserves - mineral resources in the region are not as attractive for China because of the actual cost of the shipping.

Besides, the energy reserve in the Arctic is an estimate, and it may not be commercially viable to exploit oil and gas in the region, especially in the initial stages, because of the extremely high costs involved. The real value of Arctic lies elsewhere: shipping routes and climate research.

The author is a researcher with the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institute, affiliated to the Ministry of Commerce.


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