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China’s surging presence reshapes a thawing Arctic

Scientists are playing a significant role in the Arctic region, helping to educate the world about its unique ecosystem along with the ongoing geopolitical positioning by Arctic and non-Arctic states.

Scientific research has been central in helping determine the boundaries of the continental shelf in the Arctic region to establish which states can exploit any natural resources found in the area. Arctic states are spending millions trying to document their territorial claims.

The scientific data has been presented to experts at the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, who have then issued their recommendations to states in an effort to ascertain who owns what.

Scientific research in polar regions has also been used by non-Arctic states like China, India and South Korea to vie for observer status on the Arctic Council, the primary forum of cooperation in the region.

Furthermore, the sustained presence of China, India and the United Kingdom in Svalbard — a territory in the high Arctic under Norwegian sovereignty but open to scientists from countries that are parties to the Svalbard Treaty — is the most obvious illustration of this interest by non-Arctic states in the region.

Global attention on the Arctic has intensified amid global warming, particularly since 2007. China is among the countries that have received the most amount of attention for its interest in the Arctic.

Its emergence as a global superpower, its impressive development of polar technology — including icebreakers — and its creation of an official Arctic policy have raised eyebrows about China’s Arctic ambitions.

Chinese activity in the region has focused on the central Arctic Ocean, which is considered international waters