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Jan 01 0001
The Arctic Governance, Extra-regional Factors and China’s Arctic Policy
The natural environment of the Arctic region is changing far faster than what people have anticipated. Human society must make necessary adjustment to their experience, production and social functions and build up new social governance mechanisms to adapt to the new natural system. The Arctic Council established in 1996 has gradually become the most important mechanism of the regional governance.
Notwithstanding, the Arctic environment change is not purely due to the intra-regional factors, let alone its impacts like the melting of ice has crossed over the Arctic border to involve the whole planet. Besides, that the extra-regional actors are denied of the Arctic economic opportunity in this globalized world is unsustainable. Thus, the Arctic governance has involved in the issues whether or not and how to admit extra-regional countries ever since the very beginning. On its Ministerial Meeting held in Kiruna, Sweden in May 2013, the Arctic Council had adopted the application to incorporate China, Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, Italy, Singapore and India to become formal observer states. This essay looks at the interactions of intra-regional countries with extra-regional countries, examines the change of the Arctic governance mechanisms and makes China as a case to explain the responsibility and definition of interests on the part of the important extra-regional countries in participating the Arctic governance and their role of improving the governance mechanisms.

I. Regional Public Goods Bearing on Performance of Arctic Governance

The key to evaluate the performance of an international governance mechanism is to look at the contribution made by this mechanism to the solution and alleviation of the issue of governance. The evaluation mainly includes: 1, whether it can access to the information about the emergence and evolution of the issue and has the knowledge and skill to solve the issue; 2, whether it can set up stronger, legally binding international norms, i.e., the mechanisms that can rationalize relevant actors and make violators pay a high price; 3, whether it can make political mobilization and political integration to coordinate and mobilize the resource owners, be them intra- or extra-regional, and be them from foreign ministries or other departments of government, and to make them identify with the value of governance and be willing to use their resources and provide public goods in concern.[①]

By examining the governance process of the Arctic Council, one might find that the member countries put the priority on the contradiction between resource development and environmental/ecological protection. Therefore, for the Arctic governance organizations and the Arctic countries, it is unavoidable to face the contradiction between the interests of intra-regional countries and the common interests of mankind, and to introduce new factors in order to come up with more efficient governance mechanisms.

As the natural condition of the Arctic is harsh and almost uninhabited, the mankind knows little about it. The six workshops established by the Arctic council have embarked on their work actively and reached certain accomplishment in designing the environment assessment and governance programs. However, the Arctic council lacks necessary resources and ability in respect of mobilizing more scientists from the world in dedication to the scientific discovery and invention of the Arctic governance technology. The Arctic Council has long been a lax and forum-like governance mechanism that is in need of coercive laws and enforcement means. The Nuuk meeting held in 2011 passed the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, which has become the first legally binding agreement since the founding the Arctic Council 15 years ago.

Many of the Arctic governance programs, such as protecting Arctic maritime program, reducing Arctic pollution program, and animal and plant protection program, are confined to the level of working programs and international cooperation, which want coercive measures to bolster the programs and largely affect the performance of governance. The Arctic Council is quite limited in its ability of political mobilization and political integration. Gaps among participants of the Arctic governance remain extraordinarily large in both quality and quantity terms. They geographically lie across northern Europe, North America and northern Russia. The United States, Russia and other world powers and important international organizations all have their influences converged and overlapped in the regions. For example, the contradictions between NATO and Russia, and between Canada and EU have yet to be settled. The Arctic Council appears incapable of coordinating those power relations.

The performance of regional governance is largely up to the ability and the will of each of the actors in their contribution to public goods. Governance goals fail to be fulfilled if public goods are insufficient. When marginal revenue is unequal to marginal cost on the side of the public goods supplier, the market will fail. The public goods for the Arctic governance can include categories of development, environment protection, institution, security, funds and infrastructure, knowledge, technological instrument, and so on. The supply of public goods for the Arctic governance is questionable though.

Regional public goods does not carry a coercive “taxation system” that requests shareholders to contribute a necessary expenditure, nor is there a powerful and clearly obligated “regional government” that produces and provides public goods. Moreover, the gaps among the Arctic countries in their sizes and quality and in their abilities of providing public goods are so large that they often bargain on the issues on who should provide the public goods.

The Arctic governance is a multi-tiered mechanism that includes global level, regional level and national level. The needs of the Arctic governance will not be fully met by regional public goods alone. The Arctic Council as a regional multilateral body of governance can coordinate the allocation of public goods provided by member states so as to secure the largest possible gains. Rational allocation of public goods can prevent unduly intergovernmental expenditures, and stir up interests on transnational infrastructure projects. Externally, the Arctic Council can serve as an independent part to come into cooperation with extra-regional actors to address international issues, which can ensure the largest regional interests, cut down the most efficiently the cost caused by extra-regional actors, and increase the will of extra-regional actors to provide public goods.

II. Arctic Council and Member Countries’ Tactics of Admitting Extra-regional Factors

1, The Arctic Governance: Exclusiveness and Inclusiveness.

Like all other regional governance out there in the world, the Arctic governance is facing the issue of exclusiveness and inclusiveness. Any regional organizations will take the considerations on the issue as follows: (1) efficiency of governance policy. The more member states there are, the more difficult to reach regional agreement and the longer it will take to negotiate on platforms of taking actions. (2) allocation of interests. Regional interests should be allocated within the region as large as possible, which can prevent external competitors. (3) factor of extra-regional actors’ ability of providing public goods. (4) factor to what extent that external actors will become the cost to the governance. Anyway, if a governance regime cannot effectively admit important factors, internal and external alike, the cost cannot be best controlled and efficiency will be low.

The nature of the market allocation of the Arctic resources and the nature of the non-market Arctic environment governance oblige the Arctic countries to take exclusive or inclusive proclivity respectively. Resource allocation in the Arctic is market-oriented. In other words, under market conditions, the quantity of the interests to be allocated is limited. Thus, limited resources will compel the regional members to deny new comers or competitors. In case when new comers are undeniable, a good alternative is to raise threshold of entrance or to introduce discriminative arrangement. The Arctic governance on the other side is non-market-oriented in terms of environment protection and climate change. In other words, enlarging the group will not necessarily bring about competition, but rather bring more members to share interests as well as cost, hence less cost to original members. Exactly for the two considerations--seeking less sharers of interests and more investors of public goods, the Arctic countries are prone to take open and inclusive attitude on issues of climate change, environment and ecology by seeking common interests and common responsibility with extra-regional actors, while taking exclusive policies on issues of resources. Just as a North European scholar puts it, when it comes to resource allocation, the less members the better; when it comes to sharing of cost, the more members the better.[②]

In sum, the Arctic countries are only out of their own interest. They are fully justified in admitting or denying extra-regional participants. In this case, it is an option not to categorically accept extra-regional countries in the Arctic governance mechanism. Any candidate member should prove itself as associated with the club to a very large extent and its contribution should be larger than its share of interests. Moreover, extra-regional participants should not exert overdue influence on the policy decision of the regional club, lest intra-regional countries lose their predominance over regional affairs.

2, Tactics and Diplomatic Practices of the Intra-Arctic Countries Respectively.

The intra-Arctic countries vary in their considerations over whether they should accept an extra-regional country, what countries or national organizations should be accepted, and in what way to be accepted. Relatively speaking, Russia and Canada, the two big powers in the region, attach more importance to sovereignty and border of the Arctic affairs, while North European countries and the United States are more in favor of international cooperation. The former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton used to express discontent to the exclusive meeting arranged by Canada as saying that the tasks of the Arctic affairs are so heavy and time is so urgent that we need broad participation.[③] The Nuuk meeting and the Kiruna meeting have basically formed the tactics of the Arctic Council about the treatment of its relations with important extra-regional countries.

First, on the issues of allocating resource interests, which are interested by external members, the Arctic countries have effectively divided them into two levels, the national level and regional level, by treating environment and climate change issues as international cooperation issues while leaving the ownership of resources at the disposal of national governments, which have successfully prevented extra-regional countries from affecting the allocation of the Arctic resources through participating regional platforms. The Arctic Council thus applies either the form of a formal organization or a form of informal consultation to handle intra-regional relations and interregional relations separately, which can ensure the public goods be provided by extra-regional actors and restrain extra-regional actors from sharing interests.

Second, it raised the threshold and separated the rights of intra-regional countries from the right of extra-regional countries to ensure the policy exclusiveness and in the meantime they prevented extra-regional countries from organizing alternative mechanism in case of being denied. The alternative mechanism would have confronted the intra-Arctic regional mechanism. “Except other reasons, the non-Arctic countries will manage to establish alternative forum if the East Asian countries are denied of formal observatory states,” said Alexander Sergunin, a Russian scholar, when talking on Russia’s change of position in the last minute agreeing East Asian countries to become formal observatory states.[④] Thus, the Arctic countries finally decided to handle the issue of extra-regional countries’ participation in the Arctic affairs by granting limited access and discriminative rights.

The Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in 2013 passed the Kiruna Declaration that welcomed the extra-regional countries of China, South Korea, and so on, to become the formal observer states and emphasized the valuable feature of the observer states’ contribution through their provision of scientific and expertise knowledge, information and financial support.[⑤] The Observer Manual released on the meeting made it clear, “Decisions at all levels in the Arctic Council are the exclusive right and responsibility of the eight Arctic States with the involvement of the Permanent Participants. All decisions are taken by consensus of the Arctic States. The primary role of observers is to observe the work of the Arctic Council. Furthermore, observers are encouraged to continue to make relevant contributions through their engagement primarily at the level of working groups.”[⑥] This dichotomy is apparently aimed at restricting extra-regional countries’ participation in the decision process of the regional governance, and at the same time encouraging external contribution to the areas mentioned above.

The Nuuk documents and Observers Manual clarifies the relations between the Arctic states and extra-regional countries, and specifies the standards, methods and paths of introducing external influence.[⑦] Before becoming observer states, the non-Arctic countries have to recognize the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Arctic countries, they must not put forward governance proposals that transcend the policy goals of the Arctic countries and permanent participants, they must not challenge the legal framework that are already established and recognized by the Arctic Council and they must respect the culture, interests and values of the Arctic region. Obstacles to the observer states are designated at the operational level as well. Firstly, participation is indirect, i.e., the bill of observer state must be submitted indirectly through the Arctic countries. Secondly, the influence is ceilinged, i.e., contribution of project funding must not larger than the Arctic countries’. Thirdly, the identity is passive in that the participation status is non-permanent or needs to be reappraised continuously, which can be used as weakening the influence of the extra-regional countries in the Arctic and their legitimacy of participating governance.[⑧] By admitting extra-regional countries’ participation in this way, the Arctic Council has reached its dual goals of restriction and exploitation, and effectively enhanced the Arctic importance in the global politics.

III. The Significance and Responsibility of Extra-regional Countries’ Participation in the Arctic Affairs

Let’s take China as an example to explore how to improve the Arctic governance mechanism and how to rationally and legitimately realize the extra-regional countries’ interests in the Arctic.

1, Extra-regional Participation: Help for Improving Governance System and Realize Goals of Governance.

Admitting extra-regional members to the Arctic Council is determined by the task of the Arctic governance and the tide of the world development. In view of institutional economics, if the original system can no longer ensure the efficiency of regional governance and positive result, it is necessary to substitute a more efficient system for the original one. If a new institutional arrangement can take into account the aggregate cost and effect, it will add up the general social income.[⑨]

The extra-regional competitors’ presence is good to the improvement of the governance system. Just as Susan Strange has put it that, what a global governance system lacks is a competitor or an opponent, which is an instrument that is used to ensure the free countries to assume the responsibility of democracy. If an authority wants to be acceptable, efficient and respectable, a sort of united strength must be available that can check the use of power at discretion or abuse of power for self-interest, and ensure the use of power in favor public interest at least in part.[⑩] The Arctic countries approach the Arctic governance by “sharing the burden inclusively while enjoying the interests exclusively”. This will prevent the Arctic governance from effectively admitting new factors, which will lead to ignoring important issues of governance. Participation of important extra-regional countries can compensate for the factors possibly ignored by the Arctic countries for sake of self-interest, and put forward important programs, especially the programs that help to address the contradiction between the interests of the Arctic countries and the common interests of the mankind and solve the issue of delaying governance mechanisms. At the global level, China is a global economic power, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and an important constructor of many international regimes of environment protection. This status determines that China can play a leading and coordinating role in issues of peace-keeping, rationally handling contradiction between state sovereignty and the common heritage of mankind, balancing between interests of the Arctic countries and those of the non-Arctic countries, and protecting the fragile Arctic environment and common home of mankind.

Moreover, important extra-regional countries can provide public goods necessary for the Arctic governance, which can play a direct role of fulfilling the tasks of governance. China is highly valued by some Arctic countries for its funds, market and strength in infrastructure construction. International scientist community regards China’s polar-scientists as an important contingent in addressing polar scientific conundrums. Since the Arctic governance needs a system involving land, marine, sky and space technologies to monitor and prevent outbreaks of disasters, China is exactly one of the few countries that is equipped with those technology system, and the conditions and capabilities to provide the Arctic R&D and economic activities with the public goods.

2, How Do Extra-regional Countries Substantiate Their Self-interest and Carry out Their Responsibility?

Although extra-regional countries do not own territories and territorial seas in the Arctic region, they can equally enjoy rights ruled by international laws. Oran R. Young, the internationally famous theorist of governance, claimed that extra-regional countries are entitled to use a series of marine rights, like navigation rights, rights of fishing in blue-waters, rights of laying submarine cables, and rights of overfly.[11]

Take China as an example. China is a signatory of important international treaties like the Spitsbergen Treaty and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Like other signatories, China assumes due obligations as well as enjoys rights in many aspects in the Arctic region. According to Spitsbergen Treaty,Chinese ships and nationals shall enjoy equal rights of fishing and hunting in the territories specified in the treaty and in their territorial waters,shall have equal liberty of access and entry for any reason or object whatever to the waters, fjords and ports of the territories, and carry on there without impediment all maritime, industrial, mining and commercial operations on a footing of absolute equality. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,Chinese ships and aircraft enjoy the liberty of navigation and overfly across the exclusive economic zones of the circumpolar north countries, liberty of navigation in the international seas of the Arctic Ocean, and enjoy the rights of a flag state specified in the treaty.

Important extra-regional countries including China claim their interests in the Arctic that mainly comprise environment interest, navigation interest, resource interest, maritime scientific exploration interest, etc.[12] As an emerging power that accounts for one-sixth or more of the global population, China is home to the exploitation, process and consumption of the world’s energies in a large scale. China is an important market to the Arctic economy. As a big power of trade in the northern hemisphere, the legal system and maritime navigation bear directly on China’s navigation interest. Any change in the mother-nature of the Arctic region will have impacts on the sea waters and climate of China’s periphery. Therefore, the Arctic scientific exploration and research will exert far-reaching impacts on China’s social economy and development of science and technology.

Although extra-regional countries enjoy justifiable and legitimate rights in the Arctic, the Arctic countries care very much on any extra-regional countries’ talk of their interests in the Arctic, and in particular, they are suspicious on the fast economic rising of China. Thus, extra-regional countries should not realize their interests in the Arctic region only by resorting to their own interest and ability, but rather by resorting to the reconciliation between international mechanisms and domestic policies. In its participation in the Arctic affairs, China should conduct adjustment among the three variables: the Arctic countries’ expectation and definition on China, the non-Arctic countries’ expectation and definition on China, and China’s definition on itself, seeking commonality in the contradictions. Seeking common interests, reducing conflicts of interests and creating new shared interests require cautious and correct assessment on the change of natural environment and the change of politico-economic order in the Arctic region and full exploitation of the existing international mechanisms to acquire and protect legitimate interests.

In participating the Arctic affairs and realizing its interests in the Arctic, China should observe the principles of three “follows”: follow the cardinal principles of the international laws; follow the trends of the economic globalization; follow the necessity of the bilateral interests between China and relevant countries. While China is enjoying the rights of participating the Arctic affairs and acquiring relevant rights according to relevant international laws, China as a developing big power also should assume the global responsibility of keeping peace and maintaining environment-friendly, sustainable development in the Arctic region.

Major extra-regional powers’ responsibility in the Arctic should be carried out in multiple levels. First, they should assume big power responsibility at the global level, such as the responsibility in the global organizations like the United Nations to make their own contribution to the Arctic environment governance, climate change and ecologic protection, insist on the importance of environment protection and oppose any exploration at the cost of environment. Second, they should play a positive role in the Arctic regional organizations, strengthen ties and communication with governance organizations such as the Arctic Council, and highlight the necessity of the extra-regional countries’ participation. They should also increase the vigor of their participation in domains and functional issues of navigation, environment protection, tourism and resource exploration, in order to allow the future mechanisms and arrangements take in to account global interests, extra-regional countries’ interests and the interests of big powers of trade. Third, they should pay great attention to the social responsibility of a cooperator in the region while conducting economic and science & technology cooperation with the Arctic countries. Besides realizing win-win bilateral interests, they should demonstrate humanitarian concerns and environment concerns in the host countries to its investment and cooperation.

Source of documents:Global Review

more details:

[①] Olav Schram Stokke, “Examining the Consequences of Arctic Institutions,” in Olav Schram Stokke and Geir Honneland eds., International Cooperation and Arctic Governance: Regime Effectiveness and Northern Region Building, London and New York: Routledge, 2007, pp.15-22.
[②] Speech by Olav Schram Stokke “Arctic Change and International Governance” at SIIS-FNI workshop on Arctic and global governance, Shanghai, November 23, 2012.
[③] Kristofer Bergh, “The Arctic Policies of Canada and the United States: Domestic Motives and International Context,” SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security, No. 2012/1, July 2012, p. 11.
[④] Alexander Sergunin, “Russia and the East Asian Countries in the Arctic: An Emerging Cooperative Agenda?” Paper presented at the SIPRI/IMEMO International Workshop, Moscow, October 1, 2013.
[⑤] The Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, “Sweden Kiruna Declaration,” MM08-15, Kiruna, Sweden, May 2013.
[⑥] Arctic Council, “Observer Manual For Subsidiary Bodies,” Document of Kiruna- ministerial- meeting, 2013, documents-from-kiruna-ministerial-meeting#.
[⑦] The Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, “Nuuk Declaration,” Nuuk, Greenland, May 12, 2011.
[⑧] Arctic Council, “Observer Manual For Subsidiary Bodies,” Document of Kiruna Ministerial Meeting , 2013, documents-from-kiruna-ministerial-meeting#.
[⑨] Huang Xinhua, Contemporary Western New Political Economics, Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2008, p. 163.
[⑩] Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 23, 1996.
[11] Oran R. Young, “Informal Arctic Governance Mechanisms: Listening to the Voices of Non-Arctic Ocean Governance,” in Oran R. Young , Jong Deog Kim, and Yoon Hyung Kim eds., The Arctic in World Affairs: A North Pacific Dialogue on Arctic Marine Issues, Seoul: KMI press, 2012, p. 282.
[12] QU Tanzhou et. al. eds., The Arctic Studies, Beijing: Maritime Press, 2011, p. 283.