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China's Polar Interests

11:19 AM, Aug 13, 2007 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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Official Chinese media have given extensive coverage to the August 2nd planting of a Russian flag on the ocean floor beneath the ice at the North Pole.

russia_sub_3807_wideweb__470x329,0.jpgRussia plants the flag, or a scene from Titanic?

Long on facts but short on emotion, Chinese criticism of Moscow's latest attempt at territorial expansion has been muted and limited to quoting analyses in the Russian press that the fight over oil- and gas-rich Arctic seafloor may turn the North Pole into a "new battleground" between the superpowers and lead to "serious international consequences--even an escalation of the arms race and military conflicts."

Whatever angst Beijing may be experiencing over this turn of events has been expressed primarily by references to the negative reactions of U.S. and Canadian officials. For example, the following statement by the Canadian foreign minister Peter MacKay is displayed in bold as the sub-heading of a Xinhua report:

This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say "We're claiming this territory."

Another Xinhua piece, "The U.S. Says Russia's Flag-Planting under the North Pole Has No Substantive Significance," cites State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey as saying Russia's action is legally non-binding. And an August 3rd report by Xinhua titled "U.S. sees no ‘legal standing' for Russia flag-planting in Arctic" quotes Casey as saying:

I'm not sure of whether they've put a metal flag, a rubber flag or a bed sheet on the ocean floor. Either way, it doesn't have any legal standing or effect on this claim…"

Characterized by official media as "one of the important non-[A]r[c]tic countries that are nearest to the North Pole," China launched its first North Pole scientific expedition in 1999. Four years later, a second Arctic expedition took place. In 2004, China's first North Pole research station, the Yellow River Station, was erected on Norway's Svalbard Island. The mission of the Chinese scientists involved in building the Yellow River Station also included the construction of an Arctic GPS satellite tracking station and the creation of a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the polar region.