Friday, April 20, 2012

who owns the North Pole - Part 45

China continues its interest in staking its claim to the Arctic's natural resources.

China's premier Wen Jiabao landed in Iceland on Friday to begin a tour of northern Europe that will focus on Chinese investment in a continent eager for funds from the fast-growing Asian power.

But by starting with a full-scale visit to Iceland, he has fueled European concern that China might be trying to exploit the country's economic troubles to gain a strategic foothold in the North Atlantic and Arctic region. The area has big reserves of oil, gas, gold, diamonds, zinc and iron. And with global warming melting polar ice, it may offer world powers new shipping routes - and naval interests - for the trade between Asia, Europe and America's east coast.

"When it comes to the Arctic, we always have China on our mind," said one European diplomat from the Nordic region, who spoke to Reuters this week on condition of anonymity.

"Given China's investment pattern around the globe, people have asked questions. Why are doing this? Is there some ulterior motive?" said Embla Eir Oddsdottir at the Stefansson Arctic Institute. "For next decade they are going to be battling some sort of suspicion as to their motive, because people have a tendency to link them to some type of regime."

Many expect China to raise the issue of gaining observer status in the Arctic Council, which comprises Canada, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United States and Denmark, all of them nations with territory inside the Arctic Circle. With ice receding faster than many had expected, some estimates suggest the polar ice cap might disappear completely during the summer season as soon as 2040, perhaps much earlier. That could slash the journey time from Europe and the east coast of North America to Chinese and Japanese ports by well over a week, possibly taking traffic from the southern Suez Canal route.

"These are pretty big stakes," Oddsdottir of the Stefansson Institute in Iceland said. "I wonder if under the surface the race is already there, to gain a foothold in the Arctic."

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