Geopolitical tension in Arctic a hot topic at conference

ArcticNet brings global researchers together to discuss the North

Chinese researchers set up a drift ice camp in the Arctic Ocean, as seen from China’s research icebreaker Xue Long or Snow Dragon, which went through the Northwest Passage in September 2017. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

By Jane George

Canada could find itself in the centre of a three-way security dilemma between the U.S., Russia and China, according to one Canadian expert.

Rob Huebert, who works for the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, shared this prediction during the ArcticNet science conference on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

He said he believes the Arctic is soon going to become a geopolitical centre of gravity.

“We are not at the end of the Cold War,” Huebert said during a session devoted to shipping in the Arctic during the opening day of the three-day virtual event.

Huebert believes that as the U.S., Russia and China vie for power, maritime security in the Arctic will become a growing focus.

He pointed out that the U.S. has a powerful Arctic-based arsenal on land and sea in Alaska, while Russia is building up its ports and military capability along its Arctic coast. Meanwhile China wants to dominate the seas to carry out its Polar Silk Road plan, part of its ambition to become a “near-Arctic” state.

This will have implications for Canada, Huebert said, as the country continues to establish sovereignty of the Northwest Passage and maintain trade and security.

This will be “very difficult,” Huebert said, asserting the current Canadian government hasn’t shown much desire to deal with this.

As well, a possible future Transpolar Shipping Route, which could open up across the top of the world by mid-century, was a hot topic at the conference.

“The environmental and socioeconomic consequences may be acute,” said Mia Bennett, an Arctic researcher with the University of Hong Kong’s geography department.

She noted the importance of involving Indigenous peoples and residents in its development.

The ArcticNet conference continues until Thursday. This year’s event is online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1,500 participants from 26 countries are registered.

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(25) Comments:

  1. Posted by Truestory on

    The NWP belongs to the Inuit. Not the feds from Canada, U.S. or China. Talk to the Nunavut Inuit first before you try and take what belongs to Nunavummiut.

    • Posted by That’ll Be Fun on

      Do actually believe such things? I’m thinking all of those bordering the non-Nunavut portion of the NWP might have a slightly different opinion.

      Tell you what, get together with the Inuit and non-Inuit residents of the territories/states/ countries that border the NWP and put together the idea of a multinational/multijurisdictional naval force and attempt to stop a Chinese ice-breaker.

      I trust that during the ensuing international diplomatic incident no one will look to their home countries for assistance?

    • Posted by Nothing to Do on

      My globe shows that probably 40% of the NWP has nothing to do with Inuit.

    • Posted by Edward Hallett Carr on

      The NWP doesn’t ‘belong’ to anyone. Not Inuit, not even Canada. No matter how many flags we plant if the International community does not recognize our sovereignty over these waters, which they don’t, and if we have no capacity to enforce our assertions, which we don’t, then your words amount to little more than an empty moral lecture.
      As for China and Russia, it is imperative we remember that these States are not allies to any of our Western Democracies. Weakening the influence and power the ‘West’ is suitable for their interests. You can be sure they are working actively to ensure the degradation of our global influence and power, as much as they are, in my opinion, working to enhance domestic divisions within our States. At present I think they are doing fairly well in this.

      • Posted by S on

        Well said. It’s pathetic how little the trudeau administration has done to protect our sovereignty. The northwest passage will be one of the most important shipping routes by the end of the century, and currently trudeau’s plan is to save a scribbled piece of paper in their faces; they only understand gunboat diplomacy, so when it comes to our internal waters let’s shoe them gunboat diplomacy.

        • Posted by Keith on

          Only Russia, the U.S., and Canada should decide on what happens in the Arctic, not China. China wants to become a near Arctic country, but they have no territorial claims in the Arctic and thus they shouldn’t even have a say on what happens there. China has claimed islands and reefs in the South China Sea which infringes on its neighbors, they’ve claimed territory that belongs to India, and recently, they’ve occupied land that belongs to Bhuttan. China is claiming land all over the globe at the expense of other nations, and now, they’re trying to do the same in the Arctic. The countries that border the Arctic need to make it clear that this is their territory and that China isn’t welcome to be a member of the club. If China is allowed to make decisions that affect other nations in the Arctic, those decisions may have negative consequences for the Arctic while benefiting the Chinese. Decisions that concern the Arctic should be dealt with by the Arctic countries only, so let’s tell China to keep their decisions to the South China Sea and leave the Arctic alone to those who know it and live in it

          • Posted by Frontiers on

            I concur!
            No nations in the Arctic Circle meddles with South China Sea.
            China must not interfere with Arctic Ocean.
            China must observe boundaries.

      • Posted by Rori on

        Edward knows what’s going on!

  2. Posted by Keep Them Out of the Arctic on

    The ongoing pandemic has brought to light a need to shift our global priorities. This is our chance to get things right. The arctic needs to be protected from more damage by ignorant governments.
    Countries came together to deal with the hole in the ozone, they should do it again to protect what is left of our livelihood, environment and climate.

    • Posted by They Are Already in the Arctic – Think Bigger on

      Ummm, who is ‘our”? The livelihood of many depend on increased usage and exploitation of the arctic. Easier navigation of the passage is seen as a plus by many.

      The Russian/European/American arctic is being developed at a rapid clip. We can’t control that, and it will affect us. We don’t want to be in the situation of only reacting to others, so we need to be in the game to mitigate the damaging effects on us.

      As the NWP is used more and more Canada’s claim that it is internal waters is likely to face more and more challenge. There is no guarantee that our claim is correct and can withstand legal scrutiny.

      Given all of that, we need to prepare and engage with other arctic countries now. We need to stop thinking with the very insular ‘Nunavut /Inuit’ mindset and think globally.

      The arctic is not synonymous with Nunavut. The arctic is global, and we are a tiny piece of it. We need to work with countries.

  3. Posted by We don’t invade China for their living environment! NWP really belongs to Nunavummiut on

    North west passage really belongs to Nunavummiut not Chinese people!

    Do we just go and invade China to check their environment?!

    The ignorant governments letting other countries to invade the Northerners!

    • Posted by The International Waterway Case Is Strong on

      The NWP is likely an international waterway.

      The matter is not settled, but sadly Canada’s claim of internal waters is far from strong. I wish that it were otherwise, but only time will tell.

      So yes, go find yourself some Chinese waters and exercise your right of passage.

      • Posted by Truestory on

        Last i checked the atlas, (map if you don’t understand the word), the NWP IS in NUNAVUT waters. And as for “Globalization”, why aren’t more Inuit informed when it comes to this topic? Maybe do a “famous” study on this topic with our elders who knows about that area. Don’t forget, long before the Europeans came, the Inuit were navigating the so called “international” waters.

        • Posted by Things Change – True Story on

          Yes, and long before the Inuit the original inhabitants of the region were sailing the water – what of it? Things change.

          Nunavut waters are first and foremost Canadian waters. It is up to Canada to push to push any claims that the NWP is an internal waterway. Nunavut doesn’t have the necessary governmental structures or qualified personnel to push its point in an international forum and must reply on support from the rest of Canada.

          Would you prefer that the “Europeans” stay out of it and let it be an inter-Asian dispute between Chinese and Inuit? Let me know how that works out.

    • Posted by Gedankenexperiment on

      About 1,000 years ago Thule-Inuit invaded the Canadian Arctic, traversing the Arctic Islands through what was also the NWP, from the slopes of Northern Alaska. This land, however, was already occupied by people known as the Sivullirmiut (Dorset or Tuniit). Over a short period of time they usurped and took the land from these original inhabitants and today imagine, erroneously, that these were their ancestors.
      Fast forward to 2020 and the specter of Chinese invasion (which is mostly fantasy, btw) elicits the anxieties of commenters on the Nunatsiaq News page who point to the moral implications of their ownership of the land.
      How do we parse the ethics of these notions of who owns this land? Why shouldn’t China have the same right to usurp the land that others have exercised in the past?

      • Posted by Truestory on

        The Chinese invasion is very real. They are buying mines, hotels, ect. and other money making businesses all over Canada, and other parts of the world. It is now the second most economic power in the world. And like the Europeans, they ARE coming.

        • Posted by Gedankenexperiment on

          In that case, let’s hope the pan-Asiatic ties of yester-millennia evoke a kind of empathy response and sense of goodwill between our impending neo-colonizers and Inuit. I suspect overtures of this sort to be made purely in the self-interest of the new settlers. Still, I also expect Inuit will, at first, embrace them with vigour.
          Also, to get a jump on things let’s begin lobbying the GN for Mandarin language training in our school system. Maybe NTI can kick in a few bucks for once.
          And finally, I propose we introduce a new vocabulary to help describe this changed reality; no longer will we simply call European-Canadians ‘Settlers’ (thankfully), but ‘Paleo-settlers,’ our new Chinese overlords shall be known as ‘Neo-Settlers.’
          Also, a hot tip for all the carvers; you have a very lucrative future making depictions of Mao in kamiks and parka

      • Posted by The ways of humanity ! on

        People have been killing each other, all over this planet, for many thousands of years.
        Will probably continue for many more thousands of years.
        Many Inuit & First Nations do not realize that they are as much invaders as anyone else.
        I have heard stories how the Tunnits all “disappeared” ?
        They were killed by the Tuli people from Alaska !
        Afros, Aisos, Euros, & Abos, we are all the same.
        I wish all peoples could have fair land claims, same as Inuit & First Nations. Good for them !

  4. Posted by We’re on the outside looking in on

    The arctic has become the playground for the Americans, Russians and Chinese.
    Canada does not have the military/icebreaker presence required to maintain the territorial boundaries of Canada in the arctic, and we have recently seen with their most recent administration that we cannot rely on the Americans to help repel Russians or Chinese, as they will sell us out and change their strategy just as much as any other actor.
    Canada can’t depend on anyone in the Arctic, and Inuit can’t depend on Canada in the Arctic.
    So we’re left on the outside looking in two times over… powerless to do anything about our own traditional territories and waters other than watching others mess around with it all.

  5. Posted by Just like Chinese people now owning Aupaluk Mining Nunavik? on

    Just like Chinese people now owning mining in Aupaluk Nunavik?!

    invaders, even Qallunaat and Uii Uii people are from Europe over thinking owning both Nunavik & Nunavut.

    we are so played much!

    • Posted by Miner on

      China is moving into the Kitikmeot also, even KIA has been lobbying hard to build a road and port for them and Canada might be spending half a billion to build it for them.
      China will have more reasons to be in the Arctic thanks to some help from KIA.

  6. Posted by Ummmmmm… on

    This feels more like one person trying to make this a hot topic.

  7. Posted by Stan Whitson on

    Very sad if the NWP becomes international waters. Aren’t certain parts quite shallow?

    • Posted by Professor Wannabe on

      This story isn’t even about the NWP specifically. The conversation ended up following that direction but that issue alone, as important and interesting as it is, doesn’t capture the entirety of what is going on here.

  8. Posted by Mark on

    When you look at other countries and what they are doing in regards to building infrastructure in the Arctic, Canada is getting left behind.
    Other northern countries have been building up their infrastructure in all kinds of things to deep water ports, roads , fibre optics, satellites. Icebreakers and so on, that old saying “use it or lose it” Canada is not doing enough for its Arctic.

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