beware of the littoral-minded: China can’t be ‘just a passive onlooker’ of North Pole claims

So far there hasn’t been much of a Chinese media reaction to Denmark’s claim over a large swath of the Arctic, North Pole and all, as their territorial waters, something that has been called “the Kingdom’s greatest expansion since the Kalmar Union“. An article from last week, i.e. before the Danish official claim at the UN, in the ‘military affairs’ section of Sina does talk more generally about several countries “wrestling for control of the Arctic”, something China can’t afford to “just observe“.

Guo Peiqing 郭培清, a professor at the Ocean University of China (海大) in Qingdao and a well-known authority on Arctic issues, is quoted as emphasising the importance of the Arctic, both for its natural resources and as a shipping shortcut, from the point of view of the large resource needs imposed by China’s “peaceful rise” and long-term development. China can’t just passively watch while other countries scramble for the Arctic, the article adds, and must plan ahead and act to protect its legitimate interests in the region.

None of these views is new, and specifically people like professor Guo have consistently warned about the Arctic littoral states trying to keep the Arctic all for themselves.

As for specific coverage of the Danish claim, all Chinese media have had to offer thus far is short news sources to either the Financial Times or ‘Russian media’, such as this quickie making the rounds on Renminwang and elsewhere, which mirrors rather closely a TASS story and says right from the title that Denmark is claiming ’20 times their continental landmass’. Whatever the merits od the Danish claim, that number is a bit disingenuous since the roughly 900k km2 the Danes are asking for amount to less than half the area of Greenland, or, if you will, a meagre 25% of China’s own claim in warmer latitudes, also known as the nine-dash line or the Cow’s Tongue.

The TASS story those Chinese news items are drawing from appears to be a short English-language article that doesn’t quite shine for the editing standards you’d expect when discussing a high-stakes geopolitical intrigue: the article manages to refer to Denmark’s claim as “the Dutch application”. Now the Netherlands’ northernmost point does entitle them to be addressed as a ‘near-Arctic state’ (近北极国家)by Chinese standards, or they might for that matter even pull a Senkaku and ask for, say, Jan Mayen based on the exploits of the Noordsche Compagnie, but to my knowledge so far they’re staying put and leaving the Arctic alone. To be fair to the TASS editors, датский ‘Danish’ does sound a bit like ‘Dutch’, although according to Vasmer the words seem to be unrelated.

But the Russians have actually provided a more official reaction to the Danish ambitions, through natural resources minister Sergey Donskoy who said that the UN’s commission the Danes are claiming the North Pole at has actually no authority to give it to them. Mr Donskoy’s surname means ‘of the (river) Don Дон‘, just a soft sign away from Don’ Донь which was an old Russian name for Denmark.

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