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US pattern of lawless behavior will inform how it treats Arctic: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-05-07 21:03

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and investors may want to say "Thank You" to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for declaring his country welcomes Chinese investment in the Arctic region. Although that welcome was conditional — reserved for investments that are "transparent", and "reflect economic interests, not national security interests", as he told the Arctic Council meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland.

At least he showed some deference to the jurisprudential fact that no existing international convention applicable to the Arctic supports preventing any country from benefiting from development of the Arctic.

Some parts of the Arctic Ocean form part of the high seas and international seabed area. This means non-Arctic nations enjoy extensive rights in scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines as well as resource exploration and exploitation in these areas.

As a signatory to the 1925 Spitsbergen Treaty, a member of the International Arctic Science Committee, and accredited observer to the Arctic Council, China has high stakes in Arctic affairs. The emerging Arctic shipping channel, which may dramatically cut sailing time between the Pacific and Atlantic, for one, will prove a significant cost-cutter for Chinese foreign trade. Not to mention the country's special commitment to Arctic peace as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Unfortunately, Pompeo's display of sensibleness proved ephemeral, as soon as his fixation on China took over.

"Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?" he asked his audience, while throwing Washington's hat in that ring with his assertion that the US is strengthening its force presence in the region.

As the white paper China issued in 2018 indicates, nothing it pursues in the Arctic is beyond what it is entitled to under the existing international legal framework. And its participation would be under principles of "respect, cooperation, win-win result and sustainability".

If Washington is worried about territorial claims in the Arctic, it should turn to other Arctic Council members.

And it should rest assured that no matter how Beijing defines its relationship with the Arctic, "near-Arctic" or not, it will never be a party in any Arctic territorial dispute.

The Pentagon is to present a new defense strategy for the Arctic by June 1, if the past is any guide to the future it will merely continue the pattern of aggressive behavior the US has shown elsewhere, including in the South China Sea.

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