Headline : Distrust towards Chinese interference in Arctic an opportunity for India Editorial 21st Oct’19 FinancialExpress
Significance of Arctic:
- Arctic is a resource-rich area.
- With the melting of the sea ice, proposed sea and land routes are strategically emerging in the region.
The Arctic Circle (Organization):
- As the Arctic has suffered from a lack of global awareness and a lack of effective governance, the Arctic Circle organization was established in 2013.
- The Arctic Circle is a quasi-government body that works with the Icelandic government to create the largest, unique and open Arctic platform for international dialogue and cooperation on the future of the Arctic.
Arctic Circle Assembly:
- The annual Arctic Circle Assembly is a meeting place for over 2,000 delegates from 60 odd countries.
- The Assembly does not uphold any specific embodied mandates, but is key in setting the trends and priorities for the increasingly challenging future in all the eight Arctic nations, plus the countries that border them.
The Arctic Council:
- The Arctic Council is the intergovernmental forum established by the eight Arctic nations.
- The eight Arctic nations are Russia, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States.
China’s interest in the region is concerning for many:
- At a recent Arctic Circle Assembly, apart from representations from Iceland, the USA followed by Norway, Canada, Russia and the UK had the highest number of attendees.
- China’s presence was substantive in the sessions at the recent assembly. China, though not an Arctic nation, has designated itself to be one.
- However, it was looked at with suspicion by some participating countries.
- For example, Greenland (Denmark) expressed deep distrust towards China’s investment in its aviation sector.
- Also, China’s leading role in the establishment of new routes in the region—notably the Polar-Silk route and the Belt and Road Initiative was a subject of discussion by the academics.
India’s Arctic scientific programme:
- India has had a vibrant Arctic scientific programme since 2008.
- It has been striving for scientific leadership for many decades now—the commencement of the Antarctic programme, way back in 1982, was a significant step towards this.
- India’s competence in scientific research helped the nation gain the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting membership, and, thereon, the Arctic Council observer status in 2013. This has been renewed again in 2019.
- This competence also beckons collaborative international research augmentation and enhanced expertise in global science.
- India’s India’s nodal institute in this regard is the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Goa.
Apart from scientific research, India has shown little interest in the region:
- India is not an Arctic nation, or even a ‘near-Arctic’ one.
- India seems to have little business interest in the resource-rich area, and the proposed strategic sea and land routes do not seem to excite India enough.
Further involvement in the region needs active interest from Indian ministerial bodies:
- Despite India’s scientific advancement, positioning itself for further involvement calls for an active interest from ministerial bodies.
- Although, India has been partnering with Russia for oil and gas in the high Arctic, the recent Arctic Assembly saw no participation from the sector.
Resource exploitation in the Arctic:
- The Arctic Council, being the intergovernmental body of Arctic nations, concerns itself with all issues (except military security).
- However, it does not prohibit commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic. It simply mandates sustainability, “without harming the interests of local populations and in conformity with the local environment”.
In this context, the region needs a new direction:
- The Arctic has been opened up for exploration and resource exploitation.
- Already experts are warning of the Chinese interest here which claims the Arctic belonged to its ‘right-holders’.
- In this context, there is the need for an aggressive and need-based directive.
- The Arctic needs a new direction—scientific expertise, investment in oil and gas sector, infrastructure investment, new fishery technologies and skilled human capital are all being urgently sought.
India could look to get involved in giving the Arctic a new direction:
- India is capable of helping with expertise, manpower and investment.
- For this, India’s various policy bodies and industry federations need to strategise and devise a new and challenging roadmap for interventions in the region.
- With a quiet acceptance of India in the global fora and increasing distrust towards Chinese investments, it is an opportune time for India to show its indelible Arctic leadership to the world.
GS Paper II: International Relations