China in the Arctic: External Influence on Regional Governance (ArcGov)
Bilde av Shanghai skyline om natten. Skyskrapere og tårn lyser opp i farger og reflekteres i elven.
  • The impacts of climate change in the Arctic include melting sea ice, coastal erosion, and changes in the social structures of Arctic communities. New governance structures have been established, and existing mechanisms rejuvenated to tackle the region’s pressing needs.

    To understand how society is adapting to the rapid changes in the Arctic, we need to understand the dynamics of Arctic governance institutions and mechanisms. With Arctic issues rising on the global agenda, more actors located away from northern waters have started expressing their interest in, and opinions on, how best to govern Arctic issues. Of these, China is likely the most influential in decades to come. China’s Arctic interests are multifaceted, ranging from economic to scientific, as well as geopolitical.

    Although China’s presence in the Arctic has been described, the effects of its engagement on Arctic governance have not been studied in depth. We, therefore, ask: What, if any, are the influences of China on specific Arctic governance mechanisms? What are the effects of this influence on the same governance institutions? And what implications do these findings have for Arctic governance more broadly? Drawing on theory-based approaches from political and management science, ArcGov will study how a state external to the Arctic influences the effectiveness of governance mechanisms for dealing with specific Arctic challenges.

    We will examine Chinese influence on Arctic-related governance mechanisms across three levels, constituting three interdependent work packages: the international; the regional (Arctic); and the national/local (Norway). How does China – as a rising global superpower – influence or try to influence the existing and new governance structures that shape how the Arctic states adapt to and manage rapid environmental, economic and societal change? With its clear policy-relevant orientation, this project will provide new insights into the governance, regionalism, and institutional effectiveness in the Arctic and beyond.

    • Financing: Research Council of Norway and High North Center, Nord University
    • Project period: August 2021 – July 2025
  • Upcoming activities

    THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19 09:00 – 09:55 – Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland


    Organized by: Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway; Shanghai Institutes of

    International Studies, China; Nord University, Norway


    ● Iselin Stensdal, Researcher, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway*

    ● Anders Edstrøm, PhD Research Fellow, Nord University, Norway

    ● Gørild Heggelund, Research Professor, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway

    ● Erdem Lamazhapov, PhD Researcher, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway

    ● Jian Yang, Senior Research Fellow, Shanghai Institutes for International

    Studies, China

    ● Egill Thor Níelsson, Senior Advisor, Rannís - Icelandic Centre for Research

    The High North and China

    October 4 2023, 12:00 - 15:00, Folkets Hus, Bodø, Norway.

    Presenters: Director Frode Mellemvik and PhD Candidate Anders C. Edstrøm.

    ArcGov Project meeting

    September 25 2023 09:00 - 10:30 CET, High North Center, Nord University Business School, Bodø Norway


    China in the Arctic: External Influence on Regional Governance

    Side Event at High North Dialogue April 18 2023, 11:30 - 12:30 CET. Read more...

    What happens in the High North and where does China fit in?

    February 7 2023, 11:00 CET, Pensioner's University, Bodø, Norway.

    Presenters: Director Frode Mellemvik and PhD Candidate Anders C. Edstrøm.

    Arctic Governance and Business: Role of Asian Countries

    Seminar at the Norwegian embassy in Singapore, February 17 2023, 13:30 – 16:30 Singapore Standard Time, GMT+8. Read more...

    China's Polar Silk Road: A reality or vision (NO)

    Presentation held at Fridtjof Nansen Institute, November 23, 2022. Read more...

    China in the Arctic: Shipping, governance and influence

    Seminar during Arctic Circle Assembly, in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 14 2022, 08:30 - 09:25 GMT. Read more...

    China and the Global Value Chain

    Research Seminar in Stormen Library, Bodø, Norway, and online, on September 21 2022, 09:00 - 12:00 CET. Read more...

    ArcGov Workshop

    Workshop during High North Dialogue in Bodø, Norway, April 5 2022 09:00 - 11:00 CET. Read more...

    Project Meetings

    ArcGov Project meeting

    Took place on August 23 2021

    ArcGov Project meeting

    Took place on December 6 2022

    ArcGov Work Package 3 Digital Meeting

    Took place on February 22 2022.

    ArcGov Project Group Digital Meeting

    Took place on February 15 2022.

  • Work Package 1: Global Governance

    Several global frameworks are central to Arctic governance. Some of these are specifically targeted toward the Arctic or have Arctic-specific components. In our project, we focus on the two most important such mechanisms, UNCLOS Art. 234 and the IMO’s Polar Code.

    Under UNCLOS, provisions like Art. 234 have a specific Arctic dimension (referring to ice-covered areas). Especially relevant to our research are questions concerning China’s adherence to UNCLOS and how China views the role of this international regime in relation to its own Arctic interests. Challenges to this regime could arise from developments in high-seas fisheries and/or protected marine areas, overlapping continental seabed claims, or the increasingly frequent discussions on the status of Arctic sea-lanes. Such challenges raise questions about the flexibility and adaptability of UNCLOS in a context characterized by changing power dynamics and climatic change. Here China plays a key role. How does China view the role of UNCLOS in the Arctic?

    The IMO holds particular Arctic relevance, as most conventions prepared and finalized under IMO also apply to the Arctic Ocean. Moreover, this organization has adopted a mandatory shipping code for polar regions, the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the ‘Polar Code’), which came into force on 1 January 2017. Building on non-binding guidelines that had evolved since the 1990s, the Polar Code sets legally binding standards for ships operating in the Arctic or Antarctic on matters such as vessel design and construction, equipment, crew training, and search-and-rescue training. Amendments to the Code require ships to have a Polar Ship Certificate to operate in Arctic waters; obtaining this certificate requires an assessment of the ship’s adherence to the standards of the Code. How has China engaged with the development of the Polar Code?’

    Work Package 2 – Regional governance

    Looking at Arctic-specific regional institutions, we will focus on what many see as the foremost regional governance mechanism in the Arctic, namely the Arctic Council (AC), as well as the most prominent among recent mechanisms, the Central Arctic Ocean fisheries agreement.

    In 1996 when the AC was formally established, general interest in the Arctic was limited. In the AC’s first years, from 1996 to the mid-2000s, much work centered on mapping and monitoring environmental pollution in the Arctic. Since then, the AC has developed from a forum for discussing environmental issues into one that deals with a wide range of questions with local, regional, and global ramifications.

    Its six Working Groups (WG) are pivotal to the functioning of the Council: they are compilers of scientific knowledge, charged with identifying and analyzing Arctic challenges but also serve as norm-promoters and capacity-raisers.

    Of all the newcomers to the AC observer list, China has been among the most active and vocal, particularly concerning its participation in specific WGs. How has China influenced the workings of these groups specifically, and the AC more generally? What has been the effect of this engagement?

    Today there are no commercial fisheries in the high seas of the Central Arctic Ocean, with large parts of the region covered by year-round ice. However, this may change as the annual sea-ice continues to diminish. Fish stocks are also moving further north, tailed by vessels fishing for what is the most abundant of Arctic resources.

    In 2018, the five Arctic coastal states, plus China, South Korea, Japan, Iceland, and the EU, signed a legally binding agreement to prevent unregulated fishing and to promote scientific investigations in the high seas segment of the Central Arctic Ocean. This area covers 2.8 million square kilometers of ocean, slightly larger than the Mediterranean Sea.

    In these negotiations, China was a crucial partner, with what some reckon is the largest fishing fleet in the world (Doyle, 2018). Chinese fishing efforts have frequently been criticized for unsustainable practices, although, in the case of the Arctic, the country joined in setting up a new precautionary governance mechanism. What was the role of China in these negotiations and what was its influence? What are the effects of China’s engagement on the current mechanisms established through the 2018 Agreement?

    Work Package 3 – National governance

    This WP examines China’s efforts to influence Norway on Arctic governance issues, especially on the Arctic regional level. The Norwegian Arctic region comprises the two northernmost mainland counties and Svalbard. We will describe and analyze the Chinese influence in this region, particularly business investments and engagement, research and education cooperation, and regional engagement with the Norwegian Arctic.

    China has made several large- and small-scale investments in Norway. There is no complete overview, and it is difficult to estimate the exact scale of Chinese investments. Our analysis of investments will be made on a national scale, with special emphasis on investments made directly in the Arctic region. Have these Chinese investments specifically influenced Norwegian governance of Arctic issues? What effects can be traced? Some Chinese initiatives in Norway are coupled with using the Northern Sea Route and building on cooperation with Russia. Have these Chinese–Russian initiatives had any influence on Norway when it comes to Arctic governance mechanisms?

    In research and education, Norway and China have long traditions of involvement, strengthened by two ministerial agreements in 2017 and 2018. In its Arctic Policy, the Chinese government stresses the importance of understanding Arctic conditions; and China is actively involved in research on Svalbard.

    Have these Chinese engagements with ministerial agreements and activities on Svalbard influenced Arctic issues and Norway-specific mechanisms?

    Finally, we will study Sino–Norwegian diplomatic arrangements and bilateral agreements relevant to Arctic issues, in particular the cooperation agreement between Nordland County and Zhejiang Province. Can China’s Arctic engagement be linked to this regional form of collaboration? What is the effect of such cooperation on Arctic and/or Norwegian governance mechanisms?

  • This is an area that's only open for the research partners in the project. It's password protected. If you need access, please contact Anders Edstrøm.

    Partner access

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